CatWalks and Organising – Unionising the fashion industry

London Fashion Week

In the latest episode of UnionDues, I chat with Equity National Industrial Organiser Jamie Briers about the relationship between catwalks and unions – epitomised by Equity’s agreement with London Fashion Week’s host – the British Fashion Council.

We perhaps think of the fashion industry as peripheral and locked into a world of its own – but it’s worth £35bn a year to the UK economy and employs nearly 900,000.  And London Fashion Week, taking place right now,  is important in a global sense,  bringing together 80 designers this year and moving partly on-line to keep the show on the road during Covid.

Jamie describes how certain occupational issues cut across the unavoidable individualism of modelling, and how the union has both harnessed and sought to develop a collective voice for workers in the sector, often with the careful use of member networks.  It is a fascinating and encouraging insight – but if facial disfigurement insurance, and “safe space” changing rooms are key union issues, you realise just how precarious working practices can be.

Theatres in crisis

Given the totality of Jamie’s remit, we also talk about the existential crisis facing British Theatre – and why the £1.5bn aid package from government was nowhere near enough.  With long- established regional theatres like Southampton and Plymouth “going dark”, the union with others launched a comprehensive campaign to save the sector.  It’s deserving of your support and details can be found here.

Like fashion, theatre is sometimes seen by some as being remote and inaccessible.  But Actor Wendell Pierce, quoted in The Guardian, sets out how “art is activism – while laws may prohibit people’s behaviour, art can change people’s hearts, minds and humanity.” And Carl Woodward from Lancaster’s Dukes Theatre told the New Statesman that initiatives for people with dementia,  and drama workshops for young people with learning disabilities  would disappear without theatres to provide them.  “Not all performing arts happen in major institutions – it’s not just about opening doors; it’s about  making people feel able to walk through them.

Links and signposts

You can access the Equity Young Members’ podcast here,  and the Unions21 podcast on Equity’s Low Pay No Pay campaign here.  The British Fashion Council podcast series is here.

Next time…

Next week we will be focussing on  union organising amongst freelancers and seeing how an increased appetite for collective voice has provided both opportunities and challenges for the trade union movement.  Featuring contributions from Pamela Morton (NUJ), Paul Evans (BECTU), Kate Dearden (Community) and Nicole Orcan and Kat Wordsworth (The Creators’ Union).  Scheduled to drop on 29 September – don’t miss it!

You can reach nearly 70 trade union related podcasts through the Labor Radio Podcast Network portal and access this and all UnionDues episodes here.

Download, stream, share, rate, comment but above all – enjoy!

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