Protecting Musicians from themselves? Critical reflections on 123 years of the Musicians’ Union

Williamson, J. C. (2016) Protecting Musicians from themselves? Critical reflections on 123 years of the Musicians’ Union. Royal Musical Association 52nd Annual Conference, Guild Hall, London, 02-05 Sep 2016. (Unpublished)

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In 1893 a twenty one year old clarinettist in Manchester, Joe Williams, proposed the formation of a musicians’ trade union to protect its members from ‘amateurs, unscrupulous employers and ourselves’. One hundred and twenty-three years later the Union is still attempting to realise his vision. Based on a four-year research project (, this paper outlines the key issues which the Union has faced during its history, including changing technology, competition, relations with the music industries and equalities issues. It will argue that in each case understanding musicians as particular sorts of worker provides key insights in to the issues which the MU has faced and continues to face. The varied nature of the musical workforce can explain both the MU’s successes and its failures. We provide examples of key battles, showing the limitations of previous accounts and arguing that foregrounding musicians as workers provides the best way of understanding musicians’ lives from 1893 to the present day. The paper serves as precursor to the book Players' Work Time: A History of the British Musicians’ History (Manchester University Press),

Item Type:Conference or Workshop Item
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Williamson, Dr John
Authors: Williamson, J. C.
College/School:College of Arts > School of Culture and Creative Arts > Music
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