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Indifference jeopardises Equity elections

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Apathy is threatening to overthrow the democratic processes of Equity’s council’s elections, campaigners have warned, with factions experiencing difficulties in finding people to stand in the various categories, meaning many councillors will be re-elected unopposed.

With ballot papers being sent out to members in the next few days, seasoned campaigners are warning that the union has lost touch with its grass-roots and that wholesale reform is the only way to reinvigorate the membership.

Variety councillor Dave Eager said a combination of the Annual Representative Conference and the branch and delegate structure is making the ordinary member feel as if they do not have a say in the way the union is run unless they commit themselves to time-consuming meetings. He suggests Equity reverse its move towards working like a regular trade union and return to operating in the manner of a professional association.

“It isn’t that people are not interested, it’s that they have more important things in front of them – like going to their next audition and getting a job – rather than ‘can I attend a meeting regularly to be involved in the union?’,” he said.

“There has got to be an enthusiasm within the union. I don’t think Equity has developed an enthusiasm over the last ten years. It has lost its way and become more of a trade union rather than a professional association. Do people really want to give up time to go to this meeting or that meeting when, at the end of the day, it is a lot of talking?”

Eager has praised initiatives such as Colin Tarrant’s choir for members, saying that social events such as that are the best way of demonstrating what the union has to offer in the way of comradeship and support. He said the creation of the Annual Representative Conference, at which motions can only be submitted by the council and representatives of branches and committees, has alienated the ordinary member. Under the old Annual General Meeting system, any member could turn up, submit motions and argue their points.

Leader of the Members4Members faction Barbara Hyslop confirmed that her group had struggled to find people to stand in each category in the forthcoming vote. She agreed with Eager that an apathetic, disenfranchised membership had lost the will to commit itself to the everyday workings of the organisation.

“We have to get closer to the membership and I think we must have somewhere in the ARC where the ordinary member can come with their concerns so that they feel involved. I don’t think we should go back to the old AGM but I think we need to allow them to see what we are doing and get their point of view,” she said.

Both Hyslop and Eager also said something needed to be done to attract well-known faces to positions of prominence in the union, as this would encourage the jobbing membership to become more involved. Eager suggested a system of honorary presidents who could be associated with the organisation but without having to commit valuable time to meetings.

While confirming that there are a number of uncontested seats this year, Equity spokesman Martin Brown claimed that the current branch, delegate and ARC structure was more democratic. Ordinary members could go to regional meetings and have motions adopted, and attendance at the London-only AGM’s was, at 150, far lower than at the ARCs, which are also held occasionally outside London.

He added that there was support from the better known actors – Ewan McGregor, Sam West and Judi Dench had all given time and support to recent campaigns.

* President Harry Landis has been re-elected unopposed to the position, although most commentators see this as an endorsement of his record in office, rather than a lack of interest from people looking to stand against him.

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