Two steps backward for the MEAA

21 March 2014
Marty Hirst

The journalists’ union, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), has recently decided to change its formal structure to create the position of appointed CEO, instead of having its leadership directly elected by members.

This is a backward step for a once progressive union and removes decision making from the hands of the rank and file, putting it firmly in the pockets of unelected officials.

The MEAA represents journalists, actors and people who work in the entertainment industries. An amalgamated union, it’s made up of the former Actors’ Equity, the Australian Journalists’ Association and the union representing stage hands, riggers and theatre crews.

The move to having an appointed CEO is another step in the corporatisation of the MEAA. Supporters of the move argued it would bring the union into the 21st century and that having a leader elected from the ranks of the union was anachronistic. This is a mistaken view. The idea that any union should “go to the labour market” to find its leader is absolutely wrong.

Unions are political organisations, not business entities; the leadership of the union should be committed to advancing the collective interests of the membership, not running the organisation on principles of efficiency or value for money.

It is a sad indictment of a once proud industrial organisation that its leading members – the national council – would vote to reduce the voice of members in the union, rather than preserve and extend it.

In what is perhaps a sign of things to come inside the MEAA, the federal secretary, Chris Warren, refused to allow a campaigner against the corporatisation, Marcus Strom, to distribute an open letter to members in NSW.

Marcus wrote that the future of the union is on the line over this issue: “Our industries and crafts are changing and we must change with them. But the bedrock of that change must be members’ involvement and democratic accountability.”

It is a pity that this warning was not heeded. Instead the council opted for so-called “merit-based selection” of all senior management positions in the MEAA. This opens the way for careerists and political hacks to set the direction of the union and removes any power that members once had to hold an elected federal secretary to account.

One horrified MEAA member has suggested setting up a rank-and-file reform group inside the union. This is good idea and one that should be supported by all members who see this corporatising move as an anti-democratic and backward step for the union.

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