At the beginning of 2019 Newcastle TUC took the momentous step of establishing a Culture Subcommittee. This followed the Trades Council’s support for the OtherGEN group in campaigning against the ‘artwashing’ involved in the 2018 Great Exhibition of the North. Follow these links to find the Terms of Reference of the Subcommittee and the Culture Policy which it produced, subsequently endorsed by Newcastle TUC.
The Subcommittee has, in furthering the objectives of the Policy:
- engaged with the City Council and local cultural bodies, such as the Baltic Art Gallery and Tyne & Wear Museums;
- submitted a paper to the Labour Party National Policy Forum consultation process, and
- submitted a response to the City Council on the draft Culture Vision for Newcastle.
In 2019 Newcastle TUC also worked with Artists Union England to secure the establishment of a Northern Region TUC Cultural Working Group, and – via the Tyne & Wear County Association of Trades Union Councils – submitted a successful motion to the Annual Conference of Trades Union Councils, on ‘Cultural Policies and Campaigning for Trades Union Councils’.
Terms of Reference
- Developing a policy document to guide a programme of work.
- Consulting with branches about members’ problems and aspirations.
- Engaging with relevant bodies: local and regional government agencies, cultural institutions etc. to promote and advance the principles in the policy document, eg issues of access, content, relevance, funding, delivery, diversity.
- Advising and assisting directly with cultural provision eg by advising on drama productions; engaging with local poets, artists and musicians in support of TU objectives; May Day etc.
Newcastle Trades Union Council is the link between the trade union movement and the wider community, in the city of Newcastle. It has established a subcommittee to take forward one of its constitutional aims, which is “to help promote suitable cultural, educational, social and sports facilities for all working people.”
This policy document sets out our approach to culture issues. It is a working document, developed to promote and guide discussions with relevant local agencies, individuals and partnerships. Similar initiatives are being taken by the labour movement in other areas of the country.
We seek support, endorsement and implementation of these principles by local and regional authorities; employers, owners, managers, and trustees of cultural institutions of all kinds; and politicians in office or standing for office.
What is culture and why is it important?
Raymond Williams said: “Culture is ordinary: that is where we must start.” This means that culture includes all those learned human activities which give life purpose, meaning and value, and which human beings engage in for enjoyment, entertainment and enlightenment.
Culture therefore includes sport, TV and the media generally, eating and drinking, fashion and clothing, education, religion and many other popular activities. Fundamentally, human cultural activities can be social, unifying and egalitarian. They can express and assert our common humanity and solidarity against divisions of class, gender, race and other social divisions.
Taking part in cultural activities is not some optional extra for us. It sustains our health, well-being and happiness, and is essential to our development and flourishing as human beings.
So trade union members and working people generally who are connected with any of these cultural activities, as employees or as consumers, have a strong interest in how they are organised, resourced and delivered in our society. The policies and practices of social, political and cultural institutions and agencies which in their various ways own, control and deliver cultural activities are vital to working people, as employees and as consumers.
As the UN Declaration of Human Rights (Article 27) says: “Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community.”
Equal and free participation in culture
How should that basic human right be realised, in Newcastle? Below are some general principles for implementation, with some examples of policies to improve the situation which could be considered by local authorities and cultural institutions.
Participation via access and content – measures to improve the access of working and poorer people to culture
- Promote cheap or free access to cultural institutions and events.
- Review relevance and accessibility of the content of cultural activities to all social classes and aim to increase the benefit of cultural institutions and events to local workers and local communities.
Participation via funding – measures to improve the amount, balance and distribution of public funding
- Review amount of provision with reference to amount of public spending via taxation and Lottery tickets and seek to rebalance provision accordingly
- Review take-up of publicly funded cultural activities by social class, ethnic background and other measures, and seek to rebalance provision accordingly
- Ensure funding opportunities are available to smaller, grassroots organisations
Participation via ownership – measures to improve shared ownership of culture
- Review ownership arrangements and develop ways of sharing ownership of cultural institutions with users, employees, local authorities and local communities
Participation via control – measures to improve democratic management and control of culture
- Review arrangements for oversight and control of cultural institutions and develop ways of increasing representation of users, employees, local authorities and local communities
Participation via employment – measures to improve wages, terms and condition, diversity, job security, etc.
- Uphold employment legislation, implement trade union agreements to provide adequate remuneration to employees, recognise and encourage trade union membership, maintain health and safety standards
- Review employment policies and practices with reference to diversity and job security, and improve employment and career opportunities for working-class applicants
Newcastle TUC believes that the quality of life for people in the Newcastle area, especially working people and the less well off, could be significantly improved by the acceptance and implementation of the kind of measures outlined above. We therefore urge regional and local authorities, cultural institutions and all agencies and businesses relevant to our cultural life to consider, discuss and incorporate them in their constitutions, policies and practices.