by Marcus Strom
Federal Council in March will be a watershed in the history of our union. There are three main areas for discussion:
- allocation of resources to ensure we retain and deepen our organisation where we are strong and grow in new areas;
- democratic structures that ensure a strong, accountable collective leadership that can act within strict and transparent guidelines;
- developing a culture of setting goals, measuring what we have achieved and honestly assessing how we have done.
1) Allocation of resources
The discussion document produced by the federal secretary stated that we have a choice between our resources being focused on organising our members or in providing them with high-quality services.
I believe this to be a false choice and I’ve been heartened by discussions that show most people hold this view.
As a modern union we will be unable to provide any meaningful services if we cannot organise our members. Our starting and finishing point must always be organising the membership and potential membership.
To achieve this we must find ways to utilise the union’s greatest untapped resource: our membership. Members must be empowered and given responsibility for the future of the union. If we present ourselves merely as a service-provider we weaken our ability to retain membership. “The Union” will become a disaggregated third-party. Members will seek other ‘service providers’ if we are unable to match services in the market if we adopt corporate structures and project as focused on service provision.
To avoid this we must develop programs that are run by the membership. In Equity, the classes run through the Equity Foundation are a great example of this. Development programs run by members for members. Within the media section, the development of the Women in Media program shows what is possible. Providing freelance journalists with low- cost, quality services will not consolidate our membership without organising active freelance committees.
Each of our sections has strengths from which others can learn from. Equity has strong identity that can provide inspiration to crew and media. Equity’s ability to organise ‘contingent workers’ shows what can be done as other sections face increasingly casualised or freelance work. Crew’s commitment to grassroots organising and planning has lead to growth from which both equity and media could learn. Media continues to set the professional standards across our industry and through work with the Walkley Foundation we are helping to set the agenda.
2) Democratic structures
It is likely that there will be proposals to abolish all fulltime elected officials from our union. If passed I believe this will be a profound mistake. We should not go down the path of a corporatised structure focused on service provision alone.
Rather than reject direct membership control of elected fulltime officials, we should strengthen such control. We are fundamentally a political organisation to further the interests of our members and the industries in which we work. That requires strong, active representative structures.
The union has suffered the loss of two elected assistant federal secretaries. Having a strong elected full-time leadership working in tandem with – and accountable to – an honorary executive committee is the best way forward.
While corporate structures may suit not-for-profit service providers, they do not suit political organisations such as unions. For that we need an elected and accountable day-to-day leadership.
It is important to have strong representative honorary representation, but these need to work with other elected national leaders.
Over the past three years we have seen a dimunition in the collective leadership of the union. Appointed officials have replaced elected officials at the top of our union. And while I believe these officials have been the very best appointments, the fact they are appointed reduces their agency within the organisation.
We should retain the existing management committee – with one honorary member to become the treasurer of the organisation to ensure full transparency in our financial dealings.
This committee of 10 should work with four elected full-time officers to form a new national executive committee comprising:
Honorary officers: Federal president; four federal deputy presidents (being the presidents of the Media, SOMA, Equity and Crew sections); five vice-presidents (as currently constituted). One of these honorary officers to be the federal treasurer of the union as appointed by executive.
Fulltime officers: federal secretary and three assistant federal secretaries. The assistant federal secretaries to be elected by and responsible for their respective sections: Crew, Equity, Media
Where branches have regional directors, they should be chosen by a method that gives branch councils a strong say. Interview panels should include majority representation from the branch council. The interview panel should make a recommendation to the federal secretary. Before the end of a probation period, branch council should be able to seek review of the appointment by the executive.
In my view, branches that have elected secretaries should be encouraged to adopt this structure of branch councils working alongside an appointed regional director. However, forcing branch councils to move from elected secretaries before they are ready would be counterproductive at this stage in the union.
3) Setting goals and measuring our success
In the past five years we have walked up the aisle twice – first with the CPSU and then with APESMA. There has been no real accounting for why a bigger union did not result.
We have a national plan that is at best a guide. We need to ensure that we have adequate resources in our ‘legacy’ or core areas while investing in growth areas. And we need consistent planning, assessment, measurement and accounting for that work.
In media we need to find ways further to develop our freelance work and plan to build among communication officers and public relations workers.
In equity we retain strength in our core areas. We need to leverage that to expand identity to include dance, comedy and other areas that do not traditionally identify as equity.
Crew section has consolidated in its core areas and looked at growth by re-establishing the musicians in NSW among other initiatives. Consistent planning and accountability has assisted crew growing. Through further industry-wide planning we can look to grow in digital post-production, which is largely non-unionised. This section’s work with the various guilds around the industry provides a good strategic model for other sections.
In other areas, measures passed by federal executive to instigate transparent budget plans have been largely ignored.
Our plan to grow by 1% was not achieved – but have we really done the work to see where things went wrong and where they went right?
It’s encouraging that crew, entertainment, sport has grown 4% in the previous year. Much of this is down to having plan, sticking to it and measuring success against goals.
Only through this method can we find where we are weak and where we are strong.
We must develop methods of accountability. We must review the recent past and not sweep forward to the next big idea without reviewing our recent endeavours.
I look forward to working with you all over the coming year to achieve a stronger, more democratic and bigger union to empower Australia’s creative professionals
To these ends I propose the following motions:
1. MEAA shall adopt a national structure and amend the rules accordingly to adopt a national executive committee that comprises the following honorary and fulltime officials:
Honorary officers: Federal president; four federal deputy presidents (being the presidents of the Media, SOMA, Equity and Crew sections); five vice- presidents (as currently constituted). One of these honorary officers to be the federal treasurer of the union.
Fulltime officers: federal secretary and three assistant federal secretaries as required. The assistant federal secretaries to be elected by their respective sections: Crew, Equity, Media.
Rules shall ensure current gender and geographic balance are retained.
Federal council shall adopt rules concerning the rights and duties of the honorary treasurer.
2. Regional directors shall be appointed where required by the federal secretary in consultation with the relevant branch(es). Interview panels shall comprise a majority representation from the branch council(s). Panels shall make recommendation to the federal secretary. Before the end of any probation period, branch council(s) can seek review of an appointment by the federal executive.