English National Opera (ENO) is facing an unprecedented strike. Musicians and singers are protesting against job cuts and changes. This marks a significant moment in the company’s history, as well as in the arts sector.
A Strike on Opening Night
The ENO’s orchestra, chorus, and music staff are set to strike on 1 February. This date coincides with the opening night of “The Handmaid’s Tale.” This is a bold move, showing their commitment to the cause.
The Musicians Union and Equity are opposing the ENO’s plan to cut 19 orchestra jobs. They also disagree with converting other positions to part-time. This decision could seriously affect the livelihoods of many musicians.
The ENO suggests resolving the dispute through negotiations. However, the unions feel stronger actions are necessary.
A Historic Moment
This strike is a historic event. It’s the first full strike action by Musicians Union members in 44 years. Naomi Pohl, the union’s general secretary, highlights the severity of the situation in the orchestral and opera sectors.
Paul Fleming, from Arts union Equity, raises a crucial point. This dispute is about making opera accessible and providing stable jobs for diverse talents.
The ENO respects the right to strike but expresses disappointment. They fear audiences will miss experiencing the full talent of the ENO company.
Despite the tension, the ENO remains open to discussions. They aim for a sustainable future, in line with their funding agreement with Arts Council England.
Major Changes at ENO
The strike follows ENO’s decision to make chorus, orchestra, and music staff redundant. They proposed re-employing them for six months yearly. This would mean a significant change in employment terms for many.
Martyn Brabbins, ENO’s music director, resigned in light of these cuts. This decision came after the ENO lost a £12.8m grant from Arts Council England. They were also instructed to relocate outside London for future grants.
The Move to Manchester
The planned relocation to Manchester has sparked debate and opposition. Despite additional time and funding for the move, there’s uncertainty about ENO’s future functioning. The strike has overwhelming support from union members. Among MU members at ENO, 93% voted for full strike action. Similarly, all chorus members from Equity voted for the strike.
This strike at the ENO is more than just a protest against job cuts. It’s a call for preserving the integrity of opera and ensuring fair employment for talented musicians. It’s a critical moment for the arts community, reflecting broader questions about the future of culture and employment in the arts.