By Carmen Wright
I am employed as a stage manager, lighting designer and technician at The Drum in Birmingham, a venue dedicated to developing and promoting the contemporary art and culture of the British African, Asian and Caribbean communities. The Drum involves people from all groups in activities that educate, inform, entertain and challenge them.
I have worked in theatre for more than 20 years. During this time, I have been a member of three trade unions – BETA, Equity and now BECTU. I was inspired by my mother, a single parent raising five children in the West Midlands, to stand up and fight for the rights of the working man and woman, whether it be for fair wages, recourse to procedures governing complaints, rules relating to hiring, firing and promotion, a benefits system or health and safety.
My mother was employed as a factory worker when, on her first day, she walked out in solidarity with her new colleagues and stood on the picket line in all kinds of weather for almost a year in pursuit of better recompense for their industry. This demonstrated to me that the individual was only as strong as the collective, and that workers united, not separated by independent concerns, can achieve their common goals. This dispute, which caused enormous hardship to my mother and her comrades, was worth the struggle in ultimately proving successful. Even today, many of those same people remember my mother, particularly as the fresh recruit who disregarded her personal security on the basis of idealism and justice for all.
I began working at The Drum two years ago. What struck me early on was the absence of a trade union. Soon after joining a union, I was invited to attend BECTU’s Liverpool conference. It was there I met some of the union’s Black members’ committee. I was impressed by their commitment to representing their membership, and returned to the workplace determined to establish a BECTU branch.
In organising my co-workers, I received useful advice from the union. It wasn’t easy at first – we had to hold secret meetings while canvassing support and keeping the dream alive by planning strategies.
Finally, on 30 March this year, BECTU was officially recognised by The Drum.
If you know something is wrong but allow it to continue happening, even when that little voice in your head is telling you to do something, take courage – you will find the support you need. And remember, there is always someone in a worse predicament than you, and it is these same people who give you the strength not to give up.
In the words of Billy Bragg:
There is power in a factory, power in the land,
Power in the hand of the worker.
But it all amounts to nothing if together we don’t stand,
There is power in a union.