What is a trade union?

A union is a group of workers that act together in order to gain better working conditions. Even workers that are not employees can have representation and an organisation to make sure their interests are being served in the labour marketplace. Many other freelance creative professionals such as musicians, actors and technicians have such representation available to them through their respective Unions; Musicians’ Union, Equity and BECTU. Artist’s Union England responds to a need for such a body to serve artists.

[A trade union] consists wholly or mainly of workers of one or more descriptions and whose principal purposes include the regulation of relations between workers of that description or those descriptions and employers or employers’ associations. ” from the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act – (courtesy Certification Office)

Why should I be part of one?

Currently there is no democratic body representing artists that can advise or negotiate on behalf of artists with employers and bodies like Arts Council England or the Department for Culture Media and Sport. The art economy is highly distorted, and the majority of artists have been at the receiving end of unfair (or non-existent) pay and exploitative conditions. Through listening to artists, and evidencing the need for a collective voice, we can act together to negotiate recognition with funding bodies, galleries, other employers and policy makers. Artists’ Union England seeks to actively create a fairer and more sustainable art world.

In joining Artists’ Union England you will be demonstrating your support for a fundamental change in the art world and will be joining a democratic organisation led by artists about how to shape our future. By joining together, we hope to affect real change for our working lives.

What are the membership fees for?

Membership fees are essential to directly support the running of the union. As an organisation that seeks to be truly representative of artists, it is crucial that we remain completely independent and as such we cannot be funded from any other sources other than membership fees and appropriate donations. This is important in giving us equal footing with other trade unions and in gaining our certificate of independence (see below). All our finances are transparent and we aim to provide benefits in future to our members that make the annual due sustainable.  

What is the difference between an Artists’ Union and other artist membership organisations?

A trade union is a unique structure that is legally recognised, fully democratic and accountable to the membership. As a trade union we can represent you at work, your interests and negotiate agreements on your behalf, for instance regarding rates of pay and other terms and conditions, in a way that other bodies cannot. Artists’ Union England seeks to work alongside other arts organisations who are working on behalf of artists.

What is a Certificate of Independence?

Artists’ Union England has applied for a Certificate of Independence from the Certification Office. This is a government body which makes an independent judgement regarding the criteria to be met so as to be on the Schedule and List of Trade Unions. The certificate is granted when a union is considered not to be under the control, influence or domination of an employer or employers’ association – as well as other criteria.

What are the aims of Artists’ Union England in its first two years?

In addition to the aims outlined here we are keen to ensure the sustainability of this trade union.We aim to build an accountable financial basis in which to grow from. We will host our first AGM, aiming to widen the democratic conversation around the union and have elections for executive committee positions. We aim to develop a coherent campaign which will make a practical difference in artists’ lives and are looking to work with the membership to develop this. We aim to form regional networks to address artists’ local needs and to put working groups in place to focus on key issues. All this requires an active and growing membership in order to be realised.

What is your definition of a professional artist?

Artists shape their careers in many different ways. Therefore we have tried to draw up broad and inclusive criteria to reflect this. By ‘professional’ we do not mean those that live solely off direct income from their artwork, but rather engage regularly in professional activity as visual and applied artists. Membership is open to those who support their practice through other additional paid work or income provided they meet the membership criteria here.

How does Artists’ Union England seek to work with institutions?

We seek to work with institutions to improve the working conditions of artists. We are aware of the funding challenges that artists, as well as arts organisations, face. We wish to promote good practice in paying and working with professional visual and applied artists. Foremost, we believe fairer remuneration of artists makes for a more sustainable and more vibrant art world in which all benefit. As an independent body we seek to engage in strategic dialogue with institutions and funding bodies as to how best to see artists’ working lives improve.

I am not an artist. How can I support Artists’ Union England?

Thank you! We currently accept donations from those who wish to support our cause here. We maintain a register of donors for the purposes of transparency.

I am a freelance curator. Can I join?

For freelance curators who define what they do as part of an artistic practice membership is open, providing they meet the criteria listed here. Prospect is a trade union that represents curators and may be more suitable for those employed by museums and galleries.

I am a current undergraduate or postgraduate student, can I join?

Membership is open to professional artists who are studying provided they meet the criteria listed here. As a Union our focus is on representing our members in their professional lives as opposed to during study. However we are aware that many artists undertake study at different points in their careers whilst maintaining a professional practice which requires representation.

I am part of an artist collective – can we join as a group?

Only individual artists can become members, rather than organisations or collectives. We ask that each individual member of a collective join Artists’ Union England.

What voting rights do I have as a member?

According to our rule book here each member has one vote at the AGM, and is able to stand for election to the Executive Committee.

Are Artists’ Union England affiliated to the TUC or General Federation of Trade Unions?

We are in the early stages of the development and are currently exploring links to both the TUC and the GFTU.

If you have further questions/opinions please get in touch by emailing info@artistsunionengland.org.uk or via Twitter. We are currently a volunteer driven organisation so please be aware we may not be able to respond as quickly as we would like, however your feedback is gratefully received.

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