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Tuesday 24th
posted by Conrad Landin in Britain

Debbonaire favours compulsory union membership

LABOUR’S shadow arts minister told delegates at the Equity conference yesterday she favoured bringing back the closed shop for actors.

Until it was outlawed in the 1980s, Equity operated one of the last pre-entry closed shops — where actors were unable to get work on most jobs without a union card, and could not get a union card without proof of work.

Bristol West MP Thangam Debbonaire was challenged by delegate Geremy Phillips as to whether Labour would introduce a “limited” closed shop, as part of Jeremy Corbyn’s pledge to introduce a new package of positive employment rights.

Ms Debbonaire, a former professional cellist and Musicians Union member, replied: “I’d like that. In the arts, to be honest I’ve always believed in the closed shop.

“I believe in the closed shop for all the arts. I think in other industries it no longer works quite so well … It’s tricky for us as an opposition to make that argument when it doesn’t work across all industries. 

“But I think in the arts, you have the structures still in place where you know where the beginning and the end is.

“So I believe in it for the arts, I know that my party and the government party are not necessarily making the arguments for it to be the closed shop everywhere else.”

Ms Debbonaire also made a passionate call for “arts for arts’ sake,” saying public investment was crucial to the success of theatre as a public good.

“Of course there are private donors — the Tories want us to rely on private donors. I’m here to say it doesn’t work like that in this country, we’re not the States, I’m not sure I want us to be.”

She said Labour would “champion the right to paid work experience, not voluntary internships.”

And she said that government cuts to arts bodies and local councils would leave “arts and culture just for the rich people.”

Ms Debbonaire echoed delegates’ concerns, reported in yesterday’s Star, that ethnic minority actors were being typecast in racial plotlines. 

She called for more “creative casting … not just casting disabled actors in disabled parts, not just casting black actors in black parts.”