Yesterday I did one of those tweeting-instead-of-crying tweets after seeing Michael Gove's Head Prefect face on the telly at the gym. (Good news: I couldn't hear him lie. Bad news: I couldn't get away.) Above is a FREE THINKING PRACTICE DAY OF ACTION GIVEAWAY, inspired by a twitter-thought by @cdialliance. It's a Strike Day Soduku for words. (It works too, in case you're wondering. Solution to follow on Thursday.)

If you want to be a belated follower of the French literary movement OULIPO you can then also use to make into short texts by inserting short joining words and cunning extensions - as few as possible. (Eg Howl! Banker Gove's face's wrong. Strike, unite, stop pension cuts.)

Tomorrow is a big day of protest in the UK, to protect public sector pensions. There are lots of myths about these, put about largely by politicians with much better pensions, and family wealth. Here are some facts:

Across the public sector the mean average pension is £7,800 per year. The media is £5,600 per year, but under £4,000 for women. The average pension for a civil servant is £5,023, for a teacher £10,275, for someone reiring from the NHS £4,087 and from Local Government £3,048. The changes to which way of calculating inflation is used means the value of pensions will be reduced by an average of 15%.

Now, pensions and and artists don't go together fantasically, so there may be some feeling that the bureacrats and comfy public-sector types have it coming. (You can see some stats and some sound advice in this a-n article.) I could not disagree more. I did put something into a now frankly ridiculous private pension early in my career, but it was only when I worked in first a university and then an NDPB with its own pension scheme (ie not backed by government) that I was able to put into a realistic, though by no means 'gold-plated', scheme. Those gold-plated myths are so wrong. Although some people do end up with very good pensions, what is often not mentioned is this basic fact: they pay for them, quite large chunks of salary, just as much as I did for the worthless tat that is my 'private pension'. They are not simply given.

One difference is these schemes are also backed by the employers, not out of the kindness of their hearts, but at levels agreed through collective negotiations with trade unions. I'm still a member of Unite, who were very helpful to me in the past. You never know when you'll need the kind of services and conditions a union provides.

In conclusion, before anyone still reading gets onto the soduku:
  • Any artists inclined to pour scorn on public sector workers should do what they did, many years ago: get organised and join the most appropriate union you can find.
  • Any venue or organisation managers wailing over the difficulties of union negotiations: get over it, they can be a pain, but they are necessary.


  1. Mark, I couldn't agree with you more. Rather than criticizing those with pensions, our energies would be much better utilized finding a way for those of us without pensions to get them. And if not for ourselves, then for those younger artists and arts workers coming along later.

    My organization bargains with artists on behalf of the field, so the individual organizations don't have to. We aren't doing this for altruistic reasons. Management benefits greatly from improved working conditions for and retention of the best artists. Could we do better by our fellow artists? Undoubtably yes and we'll keep on looking for innovative ways to get there.


  2. Thank you, Mark. Reading your blog has made me do something I should have done years ago. Join Equity.

    In the past I'd thought, "Perhaps I don't need to join because I'm full-time employed at Northern Stage." More recently I've thought, "Perhaps I don't need to join because I run my own company and I'm a member of ITC."

    If I'm honest, the reason I've never got round to joining Equity is because I was worried my name would already be taken.

    But I've always felt uncomfortable about not being a member of a union. I believe in unions. Of course I do, growing up in the North East in the 1980s.

    And this day of public sector strikes seems the right time to sort myself
    out. We need to stand together and say when things aren't right. Here's to that.

    I can now sing along to Billy Bragg without feeling uneasy. Added bonus!


Post a Comment