Scottish actors break with national union

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A group of Scottish actors are set to form their own union following a row with Equity over staff restructuring.

Cairn will launch later this month and is calling itself “a new member-run collective for professionals in the performing arts in Scotland”.

The organization is not yet a trade union, but hopes to be recognized by the UK government and affiliated to the Scottish Trades Union Congress in the future.

Andy Clark, a former member of the Equity Scottish committee and one of Cairn’s founders, said: ‘It will really be a grassroots organisation, trying to move away from what we think is the growing corporate governance of trade unions .

“We’re not going to have staff with six-figure salaries. To begin with, it will be member-driven.

“We are moving away from this trade unionism of fire and sulfur. It will be a question of dialogue with the employers. We’re not going to make huge demands or use antagonistic language.

Full membership will cost £60 per year, compared to £148 for Equity members.

However, Equity questioned the operation of Cairn, saying it would not be able to enter into collective bargaining agreements – which allow terms and conditions to be negotiated – as it is a limited liability company.

Mr Clark said Cairn’s limited company status is only temporary and will change once it becomes a recognized trade union.

The idea to form Cairn came about after a row erupted in late 2020 over Equity announcing layoffs.

One person who lost his job was Lorne Boswell, a full-time organizer in the Glasgow office who was responsible for Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Mr Boswell had been in the union for 30 years and his dismissal sparked outrage from some Scottish members, with some alleging Equity had used non-disclosure agreements and gagging orders. Nine members of the Scottish Equity Committee resigned, four of whom became founding members of Cairn.

Equity argued the redundancy was part of a UK-wide restructuring that was necessary due to the costs of financial support for members during the pandemic.

The issue came to a head during a zoom meeting hosted by General Secretary Paul W. Fleming in January 2021. Some members expressed anger over Mr. Boswell losing his job.

An actor who was present at the meeting said: “The feeling was very anti-London.

“It was feared that this decision was another example of Scotland’s ignorance.”

Scottish committee member and former Limmy actress Kirsten McLean then asked if Equity had ever used gagging orders or non-disclosure agreements, before unsuccessfully trying to trigger a vote of no confidence at the regard to the management of Mr. Fleming.

Mr Boswell took a voluntary departure, but Mr Clark, Ms McLean’s partner, claimed ‘it was mandatory in all but name’.

Equity said it could not comment on individual staff members.

Cairn currently has 15 members, but has a mailing list of 250 people interested in joining. Some have already committed to join once the website is live in a few weeks.

Mr Clark said he had spoken to “two high-profile actors who are home TV names who have expressed an interest in joining”.

Equity has just over 2,500 members in Scotland and 47,000 in the UK. About 70% of theater performers are members, as are nearly two-thirds of television and film actors.

One of those who joined Cairn is Adam McNamara, a 45-year-old actor and writer from Dundee who starred in Black Mirror and Guilt.

He said: “I just think as artists in Scotland we would be better served with a base here.

“I think it makes sense [to join Cairn] because we are not beholden to a union based in another country.

He added: “I think once people have the option of having a union based in Scotland, where we have representatives who are just for us… I think the crossover will happen.”

A Glasgow actor, who asked not to be named, said he originally thought of joining Cairn but ultimately decided against it.

“I was put off by some of the vitriol,” he said. “I think people were enjoying the scandal and it was a big drama that people got into.”

He said he was not a fan of Paul W. Fleming or the restructuring.

“General secretaries come and go, but Equity has been around for a long time and it has given me a lot.

“[The outrage] happened during a crazy time in the world, and I think there was an element of us looking for a bandwagon to keep going.

He added: “When I returned to the rehearsal room after the pandemic subsided, one of the Equity reps was doing rehearsal visits and I felt like Equity was still on our side. as actors.”

Another Glasgow-based actor, who works both north and south of the border, said he didn’t think it was a good idea to have a separate Scottish union.

“The work my agent gets for me is sometimes here, sometimes in London and sometimes overseas, so I’m used to things being fairly centralized to London,” he said. “When 90% of the work is in London, I find it hard to understand why a full branch is needed here.”

Paul W. Fleming, Equity Secretary, said: “Equity is stronger in Scotland today than before COVID-19, thanks to the hard work of campaigners, staff and the strategic direction taken since then. the pandemic. Equity has more members in Scotland than at the start of 2020 and has secured 8 new collective agreements in the last 6 months alone.

“Equity is focused on securing meaningful pay increases for our members at a time when cost of living increases exceed 10% – as the only union that bargains for the creative workforce in the industries of performing arts and entertainment, the stakes have never been higher and we have never fought harder.

“We’re not sure what Cairn’s purpose is as an industry support organisation, but as limited companies like Cairn cannot legally enter into collective agreements, it’s clear that their mission is different from that of an independent union. A union is not about individuals, but about the collective, which we are proud to advance through the mainstream trade union movement as affiliates of the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC).

“Equity does not comment on individual members of our staff, whether current or former, other than to say that our 2020 staffing review was conducted entirely in consultation and agreement with our staff union. .”

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