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Equity leader warns industry bosses of £1m strike fund in speech calling on sector management to cooperate with union to progress workers' rights.

Equity campaigners standing outside an Oldham Council cabinet meeting earlier this year

Equity UK / Grant Archer

Equity General Secretary Paul W Fleming has called on sector leaders to work with the performing arts workers’ union to progress workers’ rights in the sector.

In a speech addressing Equity members at the union’s annual conference, Fleming said Equity needs to “win bigger” in the future and called the message for TV bosses and producers “simple”: “Work with us for progress in our industries, because not listening to this union now has serious consequence”.

Fleming said a strike fund, available to support members that would otherwise not be able to take part in strike action, is now worth £1m, and added the union is “not afraid to use it”.


“No longer will this union support the narrative of resilience in our industries. We need resistance now, not resilience,” Fleming said.

“Poor pay and precarity are not inevitable prevailing winds for you to bend with like reeds, they are tides which can be turned.”

Fleming’s speech celebrated a number of key successes in the union’s recent history, including pay rises in independent theatre, landmark holiday-pay rulings and small scale touring producers taking responsibility for booking accomodation for performers.

The union was also among the leading voices in calls to reverse cuts to Creative Scotland and Arts Council Northern Ireland and in the last year, launched a new charter at Edinburgh Fringe and fair pay for cultural sector workers at the Commonwealth Games.

Fleming added that although Equity’s campaign to stop the closure of Oldham Coliseum was not successful, it had “given the community a voice, hundreds of people packed into the theatre brought there by a union campaign”.

“The union movement’s greatest achievements have never been pay, it has come through winning a collective sense of power, and the right to have a voice.”

Record numbers

According to Fleming’s speech, last year was Equity’s best year on record for recruiting new members, with memberships in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales at record levels.

In January 2023, Equity exceeded 47,000 members for the first time since 2020.

The average Equity workplace has over 60% union membership, which increases to over 75% in theatres. In comparison, the average workplace acorss all sectors has less than 25% union membership.

Fleming also said Equity has one of the youngest trade union memberships in the country, with more members aged 28 years of age than any other.   

He also celebrated the diversity of Equity’s council members, who are 40% under 40, over 50% women and a majority from outside of London.

When discussing the union’s financial position, Fleming said Equity is “increasinbly financially strong and stable”, with assets standing at around £20m and a “healthy” surplus.

“It’s been done with modest subscriptions rises but also the massive re-tendering of services like never before and substantial savings which we can invest right back into the membership, our campaigns, our conference, our branches, and, yes, our staff.”