United Kingdom: A Pre-Election Writers’ Guild Manifesto

In News by Porter Anderson

The Writers Guild of Great Britain trade union issues a call for the UK’s upcoming new government to protect and support writers.

Image – Getty iStockphoto: 8213 Erika

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Pay, Treatment, Sustainability, AI and Copyright
In an odd way that editors always notice, the cyclically popular word manifesto has begun finding its way into more usage than had been the case in recent years. Frequently employed in times of high political interest, of course, the term, from the Latin is thought to have been used first in the early 17th century and can refer to any sort of public declaration of intention or viewpoint or policy or opinion.

In the instance we’re covering today (June 10), a creative-industries trade union, the Writers Guild of Great Britain (WGGB), has issued a five-page statement ahead of the July 4 general election called by the UK prime minister Rishi Sunak. Clearly, as in France’s Emmanuel Macron’s call for a snap election, the calling of these quick votes is galvanizing fast organizational efforts; various elements of the creative industries most impacted by governmental policy are rushing to put their points before their electorates.

Calling their statement a WBBG Manifesto: Putting Writers at the Heart of the Story, the statement calls “on whoever forms the next government to implement our recommendations around four key areas, which we believe will protect, nurture, and support UK writers.”

The union represents a broad range of those writers’ professions, too, its membership working in film, television, theater, audio, books, poetry, comedy, animation, and videogames. As our international readership will recall, the last time we heard from the union, it was in September when the membership “standing with colleagues overseas” during the nearly five-month strike action by the Writers Guild of America (WGA) against Hollywood’s studios and streamers.

Even now, the UK’s union’s administration talks of a survey that has revealed that “74 percent of playwrights had lost income due to the COVID shutdowns and 50 percent [said they] believed they would not be working in two years’ time.

“A WGGB survey on writers and AI published in 2023 found that 65 percent of respondents said they believed that increased use of AI would reduce their income from writing, while 61 percent were worried that AI could replace jobs in their craft area.”

As is happening in many parts of the UK’s industrial mix, including in the creative industries, the WGGB is working to get its messages across with as much election-related influence as possible.

Writers create the stories which form the bedrock of our world-leading creative industries, currently worth over £124 billion to the UK economy,” the union’s manifesto begins. “Yet they are often underpaid, unprotected, and their vital contributions are overlooked.

“Currently, whole sections of our industry are struggling to survive—theatres are closing or ceasing to develop new work; the number of UK independent films has been steadily declining; and our public service broadcasters are commissioning fewer original works.”

The new manifesto is an election-season platform with four planks defined by the union as:

  • Fair pay
  • Fair treatment
  • A sustainable sector
  • Copyright and AI protections

Ellie Peers

In speaking to the four-point manifesto, WGGB’s general secretary, Ellie Peers, is quoted, saying, “Our members conjure the characters, worlds, and stories that delight audiences, whether that’s on the page, stage, screen, or across our airwaves.

“Writing is a highly skilled job and everything starts with the writer—without [her or him] there would be no feature films, TV, or audio dramas, no plays, no books, poems, or videogames.

“They provide the fuel that fires our creative industries, which in turn makes a major contribution to the UK economy.”

Key Points of the WGB Manifesto

A PDF of the newly released manifesto is available from the WGGB here. In it, as the four groups of demands are laid out this way, and we quote from the document:

Fair Pay

“Writing is a highly skilled occupation that requires dedication and training. For it to be a viable occupation, open and available to those of all backgrounds, the following
are required:

  • “Greater restrictions on free work/low pay across the creative industries, including internships and schemes, with penalties for those who continue to under pay. 
  • “An end to ‘in-perpetuity buy-out’ clauses and other exploitative practices, through legislation that requires fair remuneration for creators (including royalties and residuals).
  • “Greater parity of earnings for those writing children’s and animated content. 
  • “Tax and benefit reform to ensure the system is fit for purpose for a freelance workforce whose earnings fluctuate and who are often paid in lump sums.
  • “Action to deter late payment of freelance writers.”

Fair Treatment

“The creative industries continue to lag behind other industries when it comes to the treatment of its (largely freelance) workforce. Writers are particularly vulnerable when working in an industry that relies heavily on personal connections and informal networks and where raising concerns can result in a loss of future work.

“To ensure that writers are treated fairly and receive adequate protection, we believe the following are required:

  • “Increased accountability and transparency measures for funding bodies, focusing on the distribution of public money to freelance creators.
  • “Introduction of accountability measures for venues and production companies that engage freelance writers – especially those that receive public funds.
  • “Greater scrutiny of the working practices of all venues and companies that engage freelance creators.
  • “Improved commissioning processes – including greater transparency around decision making.
  • “Mandatory equalities monitoring and reporting on freelancers engaged in the creative industries.
  • “Improved protections for freelance workers against discrimination, bullying and harassment.
  • “The introduction of ‘access riders’ across the industry. 
  • “Independent inquiries into racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination in the creative industries.
  • “The introduction of a freelance commissioner for creative workers.”

A Sustainable Sector

“We need immediate action to ensure that UK writers are able to access and sustain careers in the creative industries and that the industries themselves are able to survive in the context of a global market and climate emergency. Steps that help towards this include:

  • “Increased and improved routes to direct funding for freelance writers.
  • “Increased, ringfenced funds for the public lending right (PLR) fund, and an expansion of the qualifying libraries to include private, community and educational libraries.
  • “Increased financial support for the creative industries as a whole, but with improved accountability regimes to ensure that the benefit reaches writers and other creators.
  • “A strengthened ‘cultural test’, that recognizes the importance of UK-based writers and storytellers when making work that qualifies for tax relief and other benefits.
  • “Measures to ensure that UK talent, resources and intellectual property are protected in an increasingly global industry.
  • “Increased funding for creative education and skills training programmes, including measures to ensure that accessible routes to the industry are available to all.
  • “Education reform to ensure that all young people have access to arts education.
  • “Support for the industry to transition towards more climate friendly practice.”

Copyright and AI

“Recent developments in AI pose a significant threat to writers’ work and earnings. To protect writers, the next government and the intellectual property office should work to:

  • “Maintain and strengthen existing copyright protections.
  • “Establish a new regulatory body to monitor and regulate AI expansion. 
  • “Ensure that AI licensing agreements are always required for the use of work by AI and that the granting of such licenses is at the discretion of the rights holder. 
  • “Require AI developers to maintain clear and accessible logs of the information used to train their tools and allow writers to check if their work has been used. 
  • “Ensure that where AI has been used to generate content or make decisions, it is clearly labelled.
  • “Ensure a right to human review is in place wherever AI decision-making is used.”

More on the effort behind the manifesto is available here.

More from Publishing Perspectives on the United Kingdom’s market is here, more on politics and publishing is here, and more on authors and writers is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.