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Equity launches theatre manifesto in preparation for general election

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Equity has launched a nationwide consultation seeking members’ views in order to inform the union’s industrial campaigns and to lobby political parties in the run up to the next general election.

Under the banner Manifesto for Theatre, a series of 14 meetings will be held across the country from locations spanning Bristol to Newcastle.

The meetings will aim to explore a range of issues from industrial matters, such as pay expectations during the credit crunch, to “political” debates about ensemble casting, financial support for flagship and fringe theatre, and the role of performers and support staff in theatres.

According to Equity assistant general secretary for theatre and variety, Stephen Spence, the consultation process has been launched following the organisation’s pay negotiations with the Independent Theatre Council, the Society of London Theatre, and the Theatrical Management Association.

Spence, who explained the consultation on industrial matters would inform future campaigns for pay, said: “The negotiations have led us to the view that we need to go back to basics and converse with our members directly, because of some of the things that have come out.

“On the industrial front, we want to know what members think. Do they think during a credit crunch, where we are not making progress on a claim, that we are being too ambitious? Or do they – as many members are telling us that they struggle to put bread on the table and milk in the fridge – think that the union should leave no stone unturned?”

Responses on political matters will be used to create the agenda for the union’s first Manifesto for Theatre conference in March 2010, from which a report highlighting its main priorities will be published and distributed to political parties in the run up to the general election.

“This is about the union going back to the membership, when we’ve hit difficulties, explaining where we are,” Spence added. “What we are attempting to do is to get a set of priorities that our members want us to concentrate on.”

Earlier this month, Equity admitted its high-profile bid to obtain a £400 a week minimum across the board for actors and stage managers working outside the West End was looking “very difficult”.

Its negotiations with the TMA – which represents both commercial and subsidised managements in the regions – have so far failed to reach any conclusion. In particular, the union acknowledged it was facing a “major difficulty” in its discussions with the subsidised theatre sector.

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