Goodbye comrade

FIA Executive Committee News

Rolf Rembe (left) in the FIA office in London

Rolf Rembe has left the stage, quietly and discreetly. A stage that he loved madly and that had become his whole life. He was destined for a career in teaching or journalism, but it was his passion for the world of theatre and entertainment that opened his eyes to the deplorable conditions of actors in Sweden and around the world in the late 1950s. Driven by a deep thirst for social justice, he did not sit idly by and immediately joined the Swedish theatre workers’ union, quickly taking over as its first permanent general secretary. He breathed new life into the union and in a short time transformed it into a dynamic and activist organisation. Under his leadership, Swedish actors became fully aware of their professionalism and collectively committed to claiming their social and economic rights and thus building a better future for future generations.

Rolf was neither a lawyer nor an actor, but he was a man of integrity and a determined trade unionist who always followed through on his convictions. Against all odds, in 1963 he led one of the longest strikes in our industry: after 111 days of crossing their arms, the Swedish actors won a collective agreement with public television that significantly improved their working conditions.

Rolf was also a convinced internationalist. He immediately understood that the challenges facing performers were not limited to national borders and that, to be truly meaningful, a commitment to the recognition of their fundamental rights and freedoms was needed also at the international level. He therefore enthusiastically took his union to the very heart of FIA, a federation of which he became vice-president from 1964 until 1968. At a time when new technological developments were profoundly shaking up our sector, he strongly defended the idea that any exploitation of the work of performers, including their recorded performances, should be reflected in fair remuneration. It was at this time that the international community agreed to grant performers intellectual property rights similar to those of authors. This was a fight that FIA led with determination and to which Rolf made a major contribution.

As FIA’s General Secretary from 1968 to 1973, and again from 1983 to 1992, Rolf worked tirelessly to broaden FIA’s scope and to build a lasting collaboration between the federation and UNESCO, the ILO and WIPO, in order to promote and protect the social, economic and moral status of performers through binding international standards. In the midst of the Cold War, when an iron curtain was drawn across Europe and ideological rifts were also sweeping through the trade union world, Rolf believed that FIA had a duty to assist all performers, without exception, and to fight first and foremost to enable them to live freely and with dignity from their profession. It is thanks to this conviction that FIA succeeded in bringing together actors’ unions in the United States and the Soviet Union in the early 1970s, but also in supporting the creation of an actors’ union in South Africa during the worst years of Apartheid and in supporting Chilean artists fleeing the Pinochet dictatorship. Rolf’s hand shaped much of FIA’s history and he felt a great responsibility to recall and document that history. Now more than ever we cherish the detailed accounts he wrote of FIA’s work in those tumultuous times and the interviews he carried out in his latter years which we are proud to share in the FIA History section of our website.

All this, and much more, was the work of a modest man who did not like to be in the spotlight, preferring to leave it for the artists instead and shed light on their legitimate claims.

Today, the curtain has closed and we are bereft. But we can only show immense gratitude for this great man, who made the cause of performers his life’s work.

Dear Rolf, you probably wouldn’t have wanted us to talk about you so unrestrainedly. Just know that all of us are carrying a little piece of you in our hearts. For this, and everything else, let us thank you, dear comrade and friend.

Farewell and Godspeed.

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