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Why Musicians Need Unions: Changing the World of Work for Good

As part of the Trade Union Congress' 150 year anniversary campaign – the TUC150 story collection – bassist Becky Baldwin discusses her involvement with the Musicians' Union.

This is a guest post written by the TUC.

“At university, they told us professional musicians join the union. So I did. Six years later, the Musicians’ Union (MU) has helped me out with lots of different things – checking contracts, chasing payments, reviewing my rights’," says Becky Baldwin, bassist in all-girl punk band IDestroyer.

Although she has been touring Europe non-stop for the last 18 months, Becky still has time for her union, saying, “they take the time to talk me through everything; I feel like I’m in safe hands. You can get into a lot of trouble otherwise”.

Part of the fabric of British political life

This month, the TUC celebrates its 150 year anniversary, and with it, a century and a half of unions working together to change the world of work for good.

It all started with a simple question. Samuel Caldwell Nicholson, a typesetter and union officer living in Manchester asked: “Why not have a congress of our own?” The trade union movement came together in Manchester, resolved to work as one – and the rest, as they say, is history.

Over the following decades, the TUC grew and established itself as the voice of working people in the UK. And it became part of the fabric of British political life, consulted by governments of all parties on policy, campaigning for a better deal for working people, and leading opposition to any attempts to undermine their rights and living standards.

Presenting a new story of the TUC

Today, more than 5.5 million people are members of trade unions. We’re among Britain’s biggest voluntary organisations. But fewer private sector workers and fewer young workers are joining unions. And this comes in the context of a conservative government and a volatile political scene. It is two years since the passage of the Trade Union Act and the EU referendum.

So in our 150th year, we wanted to present a new story of the TUC – and show how standing up for working people is more relevant than ever today.

The TUC150 collection presents a set of trade union stories from the last 150 years. It’s not a history of trade unionism. Nor is it a definitive list of the great women and men of our movement.

Some are pioneers – stepping out from the cosy consensus of their day, brave beyond belief. Many are ground-breaking activists. Some did the work that resulted in the rights we have today and the institutions that protect working people, like the NHS. Some stories tell of trade unionists like Becky living in extraordinary times – and rising to the challenge of their era.

Playing a role in making the industry fairer

Refusing to sit back is what trade unionism is all about – it’s coming together in solidarity with our peers and the wider community of workers. Becky recounts how being discriminated against herself highlighted the need to campaign for a better industry, saying:

“A few years ago, I was trying to get some work through a gigging website. After I joined most of the good jobs defaulted to ‘male-only applicants’. I was really annoyed and rang up the MU. They put me through to the head of the equalities committee – who then recruited me! The experience made me realise I have a role to play in making our industry fairer.”

150 years on from our founding, while much has changed, the TUC’s mission remains the same: standing up for working women and men – including musicians – and making sure their voices are heard.

We will bring our annual Congress back to Manchester in September, where the TUC first met in 1868. But throughout the year we’ll be sharing stories about working people who have played their part in a movement that has shaped two centuries, and building stronger unions.

Here’s to the next 150 years of winning for working people.


Published: 01/06/2018
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