Submission to Labour Party Policy Forum
This submission is made by Newcastle upon Tyne Trades Union Council (‘Newcastle TUC’, the ‘Trades Council’), and is about the need to develop policies which make cultural activities more meaningful, relevant and accessible to working people.
Established in 1873, Newcastle TUC consists of representatives of trades unions or branches of trades unions, whose places of meeting are within the area covered by the Trades Council or who have members who live or work within its area. It is registered with the general council of the Trades Union Congress.
Newcastle TUC has long had an interest in cultural activities. It has among its objects “to help promote suitable cultural, educational, social and sports facilities for all working people.” The Trades Council:
- is the driving force behind the annual Tyne & Wear May Day celebration, which includes music and poetry – on the march, at the rally and at the May Day social.
- has recently promoted several drama performances, including Townsend Productions’ one-man show of ‘The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists’.
- helped secure, through the Northern Region TUC, the production of a ‘Millennium Mural’, involving input from local schools, at the Durham Miners’ Gala in the year 2000.
- has supported, and at times helped organise, the annual Tyneside Christmas Dance for Peace and Socialism/Solidarity.
Recent developments, including the 2018 Great Exhibition of the North, which in various ways failed to engage with many local working-class communities and local artists, coupled with the participation in Newcastle TUC of delegates from unions organising in the broad cultural area (eg Musicians Union, Artists’ Union England) has prompted the Trades Union Council to establish a cultural subcommittee, and to agree a cultural policy. This policy is about extending cultural democracy on Tyneside, and has been the basis of:
- discussions already held with local cultural institutions,
- a motion agreed at the 2019 Annual Conference of Trades Union Councils (see Appendix), and
- the proposals below.
1. Culture needs to be defined and considered inclusively, as meaning all those human activities which we practise for our enjoyment, entertainment, education and enlightenment. Culture includes all the arts (visual art, literature, music, films, theatre etc) but also sport, the media, and many other learned human activities.
2. Culture is clearly essential for our health, well-being and happiness. Yet across the cultural landscape, there are major problems of access, funding, relevance and inclusion. For example:
- In sport, owners and management bodies are failing to make sport accessible, affordable and enjoyable for everyone, through: sky-high ticket prices; undemocratic, ineffective regulatory authorities; and subsidies for elite sport at the expense of school sports and grassroots sports.
- In the media, private ownership of large swathes of the means of communication by gigantic corporations like Amazon, Google, Apple and Facebook prevent us enjoying human interaction without being watched, manipulated and influenced by commercial capitalist interests.
- Our daily activities of eating and drinking are also cultural activities, as well as biological necessities. Yet corporations produce and sell us food and drink loaded with too much sugar, salt and fat, and encourage us to consume unhealthy amounts of alcohol. Corporate profits objectively depend on promoting obesity and drunkenness.
- In the arts, we face inaccessibility, obscurity, and vapid spectacle, and the fact that state funding is so unequal. Money that comes from our taxes and our Lottery tickets is overwhelmingly focused on cultural provision in the London area, which benefits mainly the already well off, and tourists. Arts Council England has failed monumentally to develop and sustain fair allocation of the massive increase in resources it has received from the taxpayer and from Lottery funds over the last 25 years.
- Cuts and curriculum changes in education mean ordinary working-class children are being deprived of the chance to learn how to appreciate and participate in artistic, sporting and other cultural activities, at both primary and secondary school stages, as well as facing exclusion and discrimination when they attempt a career in the arts as writer, performer, musician, actor or artist. In top jobs in the arts, and also in the BBC and other broadcasters, there is a high proportion of people with a private school education, despite only 7% of pupils attending such schools
- Austerity policies have led to huge cuts in cultural facilities, eg libraries, community centres, youth facilities and sports facilities. Between 2012 and 2016, an estimated 600 youth centres closed, while in 2016 alone 121 libraries closed. Even without austerity policies, 28,000 pubs have closed since the 1970s. As a Civil Society Futures report, published in 2018, stated: “Closures of community spaces often fall most heavily on resources for arts and culture ... it is through arts and culture that people often gained a sense of pride about where they lived and found forms of storytelling that made visible what they felt was so often overlooked.”
3. A Labour Government should therefore develop and implement appropriate policies to support, encourage, subsidise, and regulate cultural activities, for the benefit of the many. We need to implement socialist principles of democratic oversight and various forms of social ownership in all our cultural activities. This means:
- Dismantling the barriers of class, cost and geography that stop working people from accessing culture as consumers and as practitioners.
- Embedding cultural education – both appreciation and practice – into the national curriculum.
- Reclaiming the media – print and digital media, and broadcasting platforms – by reforming the funding, ownership and control.
- Radical shifting of public spending on the arts and sport, towards more support for grassroots participation and for working-class communities.
- Empowering local decision-making by communities on the breadth of cultural consumption and creation.
- Increasing the representation of the labour movement in cultural institutions, including the arts, sports and the media, in terms of content, audiences and practitioners.
- Regulating, taxing, and democratising relevant cultural institutions, including food and drink corporations, media and broadcasting corporations, arts facilities and sports clubs.
- Upholding employment legislation in the cultural area as defined above; implementing trade union agreements to provide adequate remuneration to employees; recognising and encouraging trade union membership; and maintaining health and safety standards.
We need to build a cultural democracy, to accompany and support Labour Party policies of extending economic and political democracy – for the many, not the few.
Motion agreed at 2019 Annual Conference of Trades Union Councils
(submitted by Newcastle TUC to Tyne & Wear County Association of Trades Union Councils, which agreed it, and submitted it to the Annual Conference)
Cultural Policies and Campaigning for Trades Union Councils
Conference agrees an inclusive understanding of culture which unites the concerns of creative workers with other workers in industries with a cultural dimension, in the broadest sense, and with workers as consumers of culture.
We recognise that:
(1) culture includes not just the arts, but all those learned human activities which give life purpose, meaning and value, and which human beings engage in for enjoyment, entertainment and enlightenment – hence other popular activities as well as the arts;
(2) the power and resources needed to create culture at the grassroots are unevenly distributed, with top-down allocation of funding from general taxation and National Lottery receipts – so that the poorest communities, who contribute most, see the least return.
Conference notes that some TUC regions have already established cultural working groups, drawn from unions with members in the creative and leisure industries, from trades union councils and including appropriate campaigning organisations. Conference encourages trades union councils to:
- participate in such working groups, and to seek their establishment where they do not exist;
- develop their own local cultural policies, in order to help promote suitable cultural, educational, social and sports facilities for working people;
- seek to engage with relevant local bodies to promote and advance trade union concerns around provision, eg issues of access, content, relevance, funding, delivery, diversity;
- seek to engage with local poets, artists and musicians in support of trade union objectives.