Many years ago I was playing the trombone in a theatre in Aberdeen. At the interval a man came to us and complimented us on our playing. All well and good. Then he asked how much we were getting paid. The answer was obvious to us – nothing, since we were playing for a charity event. The man then told he was a representative of the Musicians’ Union, and their policy was clear. Musicians had to get the going rate for the job. What we did with the money afterwards was down to us. Give it back to the charity by all means, if that’s what we wanted to do. And so I was, for a while, a member of the Musicians’ Union.
I have never acted and never could since I lack any talent for it and would, in any case, have the greatest difficulty remembering my lines. (About the only thing I have in common with the late Gore Vidal.) However, if I wanted to be a professional actor then I would need to be a member of the actors’ union, Equity. But getting an Equity card is by no means easy.
So the Musicians’ Union encourage musicians to join, and Equity make it difficult for aspiring actors to enter the trade. Critics have claimed that Equity run what amounts to a closed shop. Equity would no doubt disagree, and might claim that their approach ensures a certain level of talent.
I’m with the musicians here. If Equity allowed anyone in then, without a doubt, many who over-estimated their own talent would join. And most would fail to make it, fall by the wayside and allow their membership to lapse. What harm would it do to give them a chance?
(The unions referred to here are those in the YUK.)