A Response To Concerned Creative Citizens Of Barbados

BU received the following from a member of the BU family as a response to the submission from  A Concerned Creative Citizens Group Not Happy About The Proposed Cultural Industries Bill.

Alison Sealy-Smith, Senior Business, NCF  in contention for CEO position

It is all very well to talk blithely about an “association” of artists and how it is to be non-governmental. But to leave it like that on the part of this group of concerned creatives is, frankly, completely inadequate.

Yes, I agree that if there is to be a serious arts and culture industry, there has to be an association, a non-government association acting as a union, of artists. That is an essential first step. If you take on board that all arts and culture starts (and ends) with the artists and creatives, then you must know that, without them, there is no “product” for the “entrepreneurs” to market and make a fortune on, while handing back a bare pittance to the artists and creatives. And the “entrepreneurs” have carefully brainwashed creatives into thinking that they are doing the creatives a favour, so that creatives are completely happy to peddle into Bridgetown on their bikes and tug their forelocks as the “entrepreneurs” pass in their new BMWs. A century ago, this was the case in the USA – and 90 years ago, it ceased to be the case. So, let us look at the history of trades union and guilds in the arts in other countries and see if there is a parallel to be found to Barbados.

Let us choose the first of the English-speaking arts unions as illustrative of the position and policies taken and followed by all collective arts bodies worldwide. United States Actors’ Equity Association reports that:

By the beginning of the 20th century, exploitation had become a permanent condition of an actor’s employment. Producers set their own working conditions and pay scale. There was no compensation for rehearsals or holidays and rehearsal time was unlimited.

The emergence of the labor movement changed the face of American Theatre forever. The stage hands’ union, The National Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees was recognized in 1910, and The Dramatists’ Guild, formed in 1912, became the bargaining agent for all playwrights. Equity’s constitution was drafted by May 1913, and Actors’ Equity Association was formally recognized on July 18, 1919 by the American Federation of Labor (later to become the AFL-CIO).

In the ensuing years, rules were negotiated concerning bonding, which required producers to post sufficient advance funds to guarantee salaries and benefits, minimum salaries, rehearsal pay, restrictions on the employment of foreign actors, and protections in dealings with theatrical agents.

In 1919, Equity called the first strike in the history of the American theatre, demanding recognition as the performers’ representative and bargaining agent. The strike lasted 30 days, spread to eight cities, closed 37 plays, prevented the opening of 16 others and cost millions of dollars.

Chorus performers joined in the fight along with the actors. Five days after the strike began, Chorus Equity was formed. Hollywood screen star Marie Dressler, who began her career in the chorus at $8 per week, was instrumental in forming the chorus union, and was elected its first president.

When the strike ended, the producers signed a five-year contract that included most of Equity’s demands. Equity and Chorus Equity eventually merged in 1955. Actors’ Equity has always been a leader in the area of Civil Rights.

In 1947, when the National Theatre in Washington, D.C. barred black audience members, Equity resolved that its members would not play at the National and the theatre closed. Five years later, the National reopened under different management and with a non-discrimination policy.

In 1961, the League of Theatres and Producers agreed that no actor would be required to perform in any theatre or place of performance where discrimination is practiced against any actor or patron by reason of race, creed or color. This policy has since been extended to prohibit discrimination based on gender, sexual preference or political belief. Equity has also adopted policies to help increase employment opportunities for actors of color, disabled, senior, and women performers.

The Equity-League Pension & Health Trust Funds were created as the result of a 13-day strike which closed all Broadway theatres in June, 1960. 1964 saw the equalization of the rehearsal and the minimum performance salary. A “Principal Interview” requirement (since expanded to include auditions) was also established, providing an opportunity for Equity performers to be seen by producers.

The Association is concerned also with fostering the growth of American theatres. Equity has championed the preservation of historic theatres as a vital element of our cultural heritage, continues to support and participate in discussions on the possible merger of all the performer unions, and is exploring new methods and technologies to increase communication with its members to be as responsive as possible to their needs.”

It is noted that all this started in 1910, and over 100 years later, it is now finally being proposed in Barbados – and it will be noted that this happened in the USA without any involvement from any National Cultural Foundation.

It is further noted that Ms Allison Sealy Smith, who, it is reported, is straining every nerve to become the head of the NCF, is herself a member of both Canadian Actors’ Equity Association and of ACTRA, upon which two, much more to follow herein. This renders Miss Sealy Smith an affiliate of the International Federation of Actors.

The emergence of film and TV spawned two further unions in the USA, at a time when there was a great divide between film and TV work. These were the Screen Actors’ Guild (SAG) and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA). This year, these two unions, the lines between TV and film finally having been eradicated, have amalgamated.

Here is the story of SAG:

“Established in 1933, SAG arrived at a time when actors were to Hollywood studios what cattle are to ranchers: they were bound to multi-year, exclusive contracts, unable to choose their own films, their own career paths or, in some cases, their own relationships. Actors were essentially the studios’ property, and anyone who dared protest — Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland, for example — was suspended, effectively blacklisted for a time. The first SAG-studio contract was signed in 1937, but it was only following the Supreme Court’s 1948 anti-trust decision against Paramount Studios, which broke the studio monopoly, that actors were set loose. Two years later, Jimmy Stewart negotiated his way into a percentage of Winchester ’73’s box office grosses — or points on the back end, a practice which remains in place to this day.

Actors were now free agents, but they had many more battles to wage. The advent of television posed a new problem, since networks could re-run episodes without paying actors for the repeated use of their performances. In 1952, SAG both held its first strike and negotiated its first residuals contract, allowing for small payments to actors whenever a show they appeared in was rerun. Over the years, the issue of residuals popped up again and again. In 1957, SAG signed a contract covering payments to actors who starred in films that were aired on TV. In 1974, the Guild negotiated a more lucrative contract for its members that paid for “every rerun in prime time, rather than previous practice of paying for only two reruns, and residuals in perpetuity for TV reruns in syndication replacing ‘the old buyout at the tenth run.'”

Today, SAG is fighting another battle, one that will certainly resonate with all arts and culture practitioners worldwide, including the Caribbean. “As the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) prepares to announce the nominees for its annual awards ceremony on Dec. 18, it is not in such a celebratory mood. Hollywood’s largest actors’ union is currently grappling with whether or not to go on strike against studios over revenue from online films and television shows — the same issue that compelled writers to strike for 100 days earlier this year. On Dec. 15, a New York City SAG town-hall meeting devolved into a heated back and forth between union President Alan Rosenberg — who is planning to spend $100,000 of the group’s money to lobby for a strike — and many New York-based actors who questioned the wisdom of choosing not to work during a national recession.

At 120,000 members, SAG is the nation’s largest actor’s union, ahead of the 70,000 strong American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA). The current leadership’s concern over digital media residuals is a valid one, though many A-list SAG members question the timing of holding a strike now, during a recession. Actress Rhea Perlman and husband Danny DeVito recently wrote a letter imploring the union to achieve a settlement with the studios rather than strike: the letter was seconded by such box-office draws as Tom Hanks, George Clooney, Cameron Diaz, Matt Damon, and Morgan Freeman. SAG president Rosenberg — who has his own list of stars backing him (Mel Gibson, Martin Sheen) — remains fixed on a strike. Starting Jan. 2, he hopes to hold a referendum over several weeks allowing SAG members to vote for or against walking out; 75% must vote “yay” for a strike to go forward. Considering the writers strike brought the industry to a standstill, one can only imagine how much damage Hollywood would suffer if actors do the same.”

Professional arts in Canada at the start of the 1900s used their US unions for protection and terms of employment. Unions like Canadian Actors’ Equity and ACTRA were run and organised by their USA counterparts. In the 70s, however, during the Trudeau administration, the Canadian unions separated from their US parents. Theretofore, they had been unions and things like unemployment insurance had applied. However, Prime Minister Trudeau made an arrangement with the new Canadian organizations that they would NOT be unions, but instead would become associations with no recourse to social benefits, BUT INSTEAD, massive tax benefits.

Miss Allison Sealy Smith, a member of both CAEA and ACTRA, is in a position to confirm the veracity of all this, or she need only contact ACTRA and CAEA if she is unclear on the matter of their history and imperative.

Meanwhile, the stagehands and technicians union, IATSE INTERNATIONAL, formed a Canadian national and provincial presence and opted to remain a union, with close links to and cooperation with Equity and ACTRA. Meanwhile, across the “Pond”, and 10 years after the USA, the United Kingdom formed its arts unions for the same reasons.

So too did the artists in many other countries form unions and, to link them internationally, three major international bodies came into being. UNI-MEI, which represents artists generally, FIM, which is the International Federation of Musicians headquartered in Paris and FIA, which is the International Federation of Actors headquartered in Brussels.

In all the CARICOM countries, there is but one union with affiliate membership to this triumvirate of arts lobbying power, including with UNESCO, and that is Jamaica, which enjoys affiliate status to FIM. Barbados’ artists are invited to go online and see for themselves just how many of our Latin American neighbours are affiliated to these three bodies.

One knows for a fact that in talking about an association, this Group of Concerned Culturees have in mind seeking to affiliate to one or all three of these international power groups. The benefits are clear and evident. But I get the feeling that they are completely out of their depth and I recommend to them that they see of BU family member, Caswell Franklyn, would be willing to advise them, pro bono publico.

That therefore is the genus of the talk about non-government association. It also explains why the “consultant” Mr Senior, was so eager to divert such an association into an “entrepreneurial” association. Because this would maintain the status whereby artists are, like mushrooms, kept in the dark and fed on shite and it would also maintain the total fiction that arts and culture begins and ends with the entrepreneurs and not the artists.

One expects that the shoving aside practiced by Minister Lashley would never have taken place if the concerns had been voiced by a union-type association of artists with a strong international affiliate body with its own extremely powerful lobby with the EU, UNESCO and affiliation with each and every EU and international professional arts organization worldwide.

8 comments

  • No association or entity which attempts to open new ground where there was none before is ever to be deemed “inadequate.” It is the precursor, the forerunner, the first but always a step in the right direction. It is a start. Nuff said. Perhaps you with your experience in this area would wish to provide the guidance in your capacity of course as Senior Business Officer in contention, not from the platform of the BU but certainly as an esteemed member of the Creative Community and the NCF. That being said, Union type body is not needed to contest the inadequacies of the CIB – please let us not stray from the issue at hand. The creation of the association is one thing (mind you an association can exist alongside a union and both can complement each other) , the serious deficits in the CIB is quite another kettle of fish. Any member of the public has that right. The woeful and glaring fact is that the rights of the citizens of Barbados have been tampered with by the sad omission of a rights based policy framework which will entitle each and every citizen to participate “democratically” in any discussion on culture. We do not need an association or a union to see that. The problem is that we seem to feel that institutions and their leaders have the only rights to speak out in this society. No an association in the making is far from inadequate. It is definitely on the right track and the NCF and its business officers do well to follow the discussion on its creation.

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  • Another thing no shoving aside should ever have taken place. Secondly, we can create as many associations as we wish in this country with a million and one mandates as civil society the world over has done and is doing as we speak in the domain of culture in both developed and developing countries. You only have to go online and see for yourself what is taking place in Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Cuba (say no more) , Mongolia, Namibia, Tunisia, and there is a long list of how new cultural policy is reshaping the landscape in these countries– let us focus for a second on developing countries and see where Barbados is in relation to some of its fellow developing states – as a leader developing country itself. Let us be clear that the role of civil society is broad and no government or Minister should independently deny it its say. We are forever making the mistake of making these huge comparisons when the answers are right in our midst. Mr Senior indeed should not be the one to steer the fledgling association and the “culturees” into “entrepreneurship type body if the NCF was doing its job. And I have it on good authority that the “association” is far more aware of the historical issues than may seem immediately apparent.What is critical here is not who knows what and the silly nitpicking. Is Barbados going to step up to the plate or is it going to allow its government to drag its feet on what are matters essential to the overall policy direction in culture of this island?

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  • Wow … what a history lesson. This person now gone and kill off every thing … stupse.

    Look people are people. Getting people to come together under a common umbrella, whether they be farmers, small business, fisher folk will always be a challenge. These types of people are fiercely independent with egos as large as Mount Stinkaroo. The thrust of the discussion is not lost on me, hell know. The authorities should be forced to deal with a union with strong international connections … I get it.

    Unions amounts artistes have been tried, all (but one?) have failed. About eight years ago the radio stations led by Starcom refused to pay royalties for the playing of Crop Over music which was insisted on by a union. Instead the stations reverted to oldie goldies for the entire season. The artistes folded.

    Among musicians alone there is the clan that can read music (with degrees) and the (dying) breed that can play just as well but by ear. The musicians believe that the calypsonians should be following their lead as opposed to the other way around. I have had to work with a couple musicians (with degrees) before and the experience was NOT pleasant. I have seen executives of an Arts Council scheme to rid itself of an enterprising new president because he was seeking a different approach, one that would challenge the status quo. He has since returned to the US for good. I have witnessed Calypsonians fighting among themselves over who deserved what ever prize was up for grabs. But these are visual and performing artists. They are a challenge.

    The rest of the crew, the song writers and designers of all spheres (software, clothes, recipes, mechanical, 3-D and animation etc, film), and the ancillary service providers, I believe will be a better target for unionizing. But this is only my unqualified opinion.

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  • @David…may I ask why this link http://bajan.wordpress.com/2012/10/02/a-concerned-creative-citizens-group-not-happy-about-the-proposed-cultural-industries-bill/
    seems to be closed to further commentary and we are led to this link here?
    Surely both may remain open to running commentary?

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  • @Corrie

    Will reopen.

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  • @BAFBFP & Honor

    All the above piece is seeking to suggest is that a nascent Barbados sector should be able to avoid pitfalls/growing pains by learning from developed markets. In the case of Alison Sealy-Smith here is an Arts profession who have been a participant in such a process.

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  • Pingback: Barbados: Supporting Growth in Culture · Global Voices

  • Therefore go ahead and prepare your cycle for the next jump.

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