The idea of DJs joining trade unions is not a new one. I’ve heard it before – but the idea is being revisited by some at the moment. They think that things need to change for the better and they happen to have a point.
Harold Heath argued the same point the other day for Attack Magazine. But how good an idea is this and how effective would it be?
I suppose a good starting point is how you see trade unions in the first place. Now, I don’t know about you, but the majority of people I see who are into house music tend to be more on the left of the political scale. So it’s understandable that they would view trade unions favourably.
Politically, I would say I’m more right of centre than anything else, so my view isn’t quite so rosy. From what I can see – and worryingly, even some people who are members of trade unions have said the same to me in the past! – trade unions largely exist now for their own enrichment.
Which is precisely why I suspect a DJ union would fast head in the same direction. They’d be happy to take fees from their membership, they’d be happy to pay themselves fat salaries, but when you had actually had a problem you needed help with? They don’t want to know.
I also strongly believe that the closed shop practices of the past would quickly come to the surface. The DJ world is already murky enough – only this week, I’ve been sent allegations from no less than three DJs that one of their so-called friends has been sabotaging their opportunities of getting work.
Exclusivity clauses already exist, preventing DJs from taking jobs elsewhere within a particular distance, within a particular timeframe and others. Who’s to say that before long, only DJs from certain unions would be accepted? It’s certainly not a meritocracy now, but this would make the situation even worse.
And would anyone be able to join these unions? Some, no doubt, would accept membership from across the spectrum. But you’d no doubt soon see the launch of more niche DJ unions, who were aimed at better off DJs. Black ball practices wouldn’t take long to get established amidst such a backdrop.
Oh, and who’s going to run these trade unions? I’m absolutely confident that many will end up being run by the same people who run things now – people who, let’s be frank, have an interest in keeping things exactly as they are now, because it works for them.
It’s a real shame there are such big problems with this idea, because it could actually work if done properly. It could even significantly reduce costs for DJs – a union could provide you with PR representation, they could handle your bookings and so on. By bringing work in-house, substantial money could be saved and the work for those doing it would be more stable and reliable.
But I really do fear that the protectionists at the top would simply see this as yet another way of keeping control over the scene. They like having control, because it means they gets lots of money and could do what the hell they like. Anyone trying to prise that out of their hands will find themselves with a bigger fight than they ever bargained for…