ENO strike goes ahead

English National Opera’s musicians, chorus and music staff are to strike from February 1.

The decision follows ballots organised by the Musicians’ Union and Equity after ENO’s management announced plans to make all the musicians and singers redundant and re-employ some for half the year. That decision came after Arts Council funding was cut and the company was forced to plan for a move to Manchester.

The first day of the strike coincides with the opening of ENO’s production of The Handmaid’s Tale at the Coliseum after the ballot results showed 92% of MU members and 93.48% of Equity members voted for strike action. 

In November ENO management announced plans to axe 19 posts in the orchestra, and make the chorus, orchestra and music staff part-time after eight months of vigorous campaigning by the unions to save the organisation after a 100% cut to its National Portfolio funding in November 2022, putting over 300 jobs at risk. An approved funding settlement was agreed with ACE in July 2023.

ENO’s plans to axe jobs and go part-time are a result of gradually decreased funding for ENO since 2014, other financial challenges such as inflation and the cost of living crisis, and the instruction to Arts Council England from former culture secretary Nadine Dorries to move funding out of London. In December ENO announced Manchester as a new base for some performances.

“This is a historic moment for the Musicians’ Union and the UK’s orchestra sector – the first time we’ve been on strike since 1980” said Naomi Pohl, the MU’s general secretary. “This is a sign of extremely difficult times for the orchestral sector and opera and ballet in particular… caused by underfunding of the proposed move to Manchester. The management have decided to cut our members down to six months of work per year and this risks a wonderful, talented and specialist orchestra dissipating. It is heartbreaking to see the impact on the individuals affected.”

And Equity’s general secretary Paul W Fleming added: “At the heart of this dispute is about who opera in this country is for: should there be stable, accessible jobs for people from every background, or precarious jobs limited to the few. The ENO chorus and creative workforce believe opera is for everyone, that opera is nothing without a stable dignified workforce and jobs which are open to all. We campaigned relentlessly to get the ENO their improved funding deal. We support an ENO with two properly funded bases – and ENO management fought alongside us, saying they did too. Instead, they are throwing the artists who audiences pay to see under the bus whilst protecting the pay of senior management. They are proposing fire and re-hire, 40% cuts in wages, and no permanent jobs in a new Manchester base.”

Photo credit: Jonathan Stewart for the Musicians' Union

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