Controversial plans to revamp Equity’s democratic structure will be able to progress unimpeded, after motions enabling the radical streamlining of the organisation to proceed were passed at the union’s annual representative conference in Birmingham.
Equity will now be able to put to referendum its proposal to significantly reduce the size of its ruling council. Meanwhile, despite heated debate, a number of counter-motions aiming to delay or prevent the proposed changes were all rejected.
Likewise, a motion put forward by the Young Members’ Committee asking the reforms to go further, and calling on all members of the Equity council to be forced to prove they have worked in the previous three years before standing, was also voted down.
Motions calling for the retention of representatives from specialist areas (such as designers and directors) on the union’s ruling council were passed, as was a motion urging for the retention of the Variety Advisory Committee in its present form. Both motions were passed by a two-thirds majority, meaning that Equity’s council is bound by them. However, it is understood that the first issue will be taken to referendum, while the latter motion “urges” the council to retain the VAC in its current form, but does not force it to do so.
The proposed changes have been put forward in response to fears that Equity’s current democratic structure has become too expensive and off-putting to new and working members.
Equity president Malcolm Sinclair had earlier warned the ARC that without a major overhaul, it might face the prospect of having to merge with other unions.
He said: “We are facing the possibility of presiding over an Equity in decline – falling financial resources, leading to a diminution of the protection we provide, the campaigns we can organise and the power we are able to wield. Our Australian and Irish bodies have had to submit to amalgamation to keep their respective shows on the road. If we don’t get Equity in the right place in the future, that prospect may be facing us. I stress ‘may’. I think collectively we are going to ensure that can never happen.
“At the moment we are in danger of dissipating our resources both in money and people on structures that may have some limited usefulness but on a larger, strategic view can no longer have priority. If the union is to do its job to the best of its ability, we must learn to be quick on our collective feet.”
His views were echoed by general secretary Christine Payne, who said that low voter turnout for elections and the number of members standing unopposed for committee seats showed that “clearly something isn’t right with our democracy”.
Following the ARC, Equity’s ruling council will debate the results at its June meeting, before deciding what proposals to put out to referendum, perhaps as early as this autumn. The earliest the organisational restructure can come into force is the summer of 2013, although changes to the ruling council are unlikely to take place before 2014.