The Musicians’ Union (MU) is celebrating its 120th anniversary this year with the launch of a two-day conference in Manchester where the union was formed. The conference will feature talks from the TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady, UK Music CEO Jo Dipple and shadow arts minister Dan Jarvis, among others.
The MU was formed in 1893 when clarinettist Joe Williams sent an anonymous letter to fellow musicians in Manchester inviting them to come together to discuss forming a union with the sole purpose to ‘Protect us from amateurs, protect us from unscrupulous employers and protect us from ourselves’.
As a result, the Amalgamated Musicians’ Union (later to become the Musicians’ Union) was formed and within six months had 1,000 members with branches in Newcastle, Dundee and Glasgow. The Union now has more than 30,000 members working in all genres of music and a team of employers working to negotiate with all major employers in the industry on behalf of its members, as well as offering a range of services tailored for the self-employed musician.
John Smith, MU general secretary, said: ‘The challenges that have faced musicians since Joe Williams’ inaugural meeting in Manchester have been many. The arrival of “talkies” at the turn of the century, two world wars, the use of gramophone recordings on radio, developing technology and online piracy all threatened the livelihoods of musicians. Through every twist and turn, the MU has stood strong, fighting the fight for those who make a living from music. Long may that continue.’