Don T said "The Musicians Union is of little use to performers out of the mainstream of pop."
While I agree with most of your post, Don, that statement does demand a gentle rebuttal.
The Folk Roots and Traditional Music Section of the MU does a lot of very good work for the folk world, not least in negotiation with PRS, the Government and other bodies. I don't agree with everything they say and do, (and at times they themselves have problems getting the rest of the MU to play ball), and I do feel that a group with perhaps a stronger brief for traditional and amateur musicians is a good thing, but I don't think we should write off the MU. I'm not sure whether "The attitude to grass roots performers is pretty much the same as used to be the case.." also refers to the MU, or if you were by then talking about the music industry, but in any event the MU is well worth supporting even if you are only a part time musician. (You don't even need to be a player to join - in fact one of the senior folk reps does not play any instrument himself). But things like instrument and public liability insurance, contract advice and legal assistance, as well as injury cover make the fees more than equitable.
Leadfingers compared the MU fee with the Equity fee - but Actors don't carry round a few grand's worth of Cittern or Melodeon with them. Members insurance is SO much cheaper than the high street that the fee's covered by this saving alone - so even if you never play for money but do take your beloved instruments out to sessions or festivals or dancing events, that's reason enough to join.
But above all the MU tirelessly supports live music - in all its forms. OK they did initially roll over on the licensing issue, but they did go on kicking. Fair play to Hamish Birchall, of course, who resigned over the MU's failure to act, and should get the lions share of the credit, but in the end the MU helped to get a result which Equity could never have achieved.
As in a lot of areas of life we owe more to the unions, including the MU, than we sometimes realise, or it is currently fashionable to admit.
When I stopped being a pro first time round back in the 80s I let my membership lapse. I'm not making the same mistake again.