A visit yesterday from Professor Martin Cloonan of Glasgow University revealed an unexpected statistic. Martin, who is writing a history of the Musicians Union, came to discuss some aspects of its operations in classical music.
As we chatted, I asked about the present state of MU membership in Britain. It’s around 30,000, said Martin, and it’s remained the same since the 1960s.
That, to my mind, is a significant trend. Union membership across the UK has more than halved, from 13 million in 1979 to six million in 2013. Over that period, the MU has maintained its numbers.
How and why is not immediately apparent. In the orchestral world, the MU has lost all of its former power and adopts a low profile. Yet musicians continue to pay their dues and, as some retire, new ones join.