An historic election day is past. The United States has elected its first African-American president, Barack Obama, who won in decisive fashion, and Local 802 was part of the victory.
Our new activist group — the Local 802 Power Boosters — made calls for the Obama campaign to union members in swing states in addition to calls in support of other candidates endorsed by the union. (The Power Boosters were started by board members Ethan Fein and Maxine Roach as a project at the Cornell Union Leadership Institute.)
The country seems to be set to change course, an outcome that was anticipated in the pre-election polling. But if, as the president-elect indicated in his victory speech, we are not now at the mountaintop, but only at the beginning of the climb, what can we expect in the coming weeks and months and what actions should our local and members take in order to participate in desired change?
One of the objectives of the labor movement, now that the Democrats have won control of both the executive and legislative branches of the federal government, is to modernize labor law within the United States.
Passage of the Employee Free Choice Act would allow unions, including our own, to begin to rebuild the union density that will give us better leverage at the bargaining table.
More relevant to musicians, a Democratic president and Congress may make it possible for the AFM to prevail on the issue of performance rights and for the first time collect a royalty for performers whose work is utilized on terrestrial radio.
Another high priority for the new administration has to be reform of the health-care system in this country. Moving toward a single-payer healthcare system would take pressure off our negotiations and even more importantly end the ongoing tragedy which takes place when serious illness strikes an individual or family who does not have the safety net of health insurance.
In all of these instances, the United States would merely be bringing itself into alignment with the other Western industrialized nations, but that does not mean that these objectives will be won easily.
We must be prepared to work as individuals and as an institution to see that these goals are not pushed to a back burner as they have been in the past.
If there is a bright side to the recent economic meltdown, it is that the problems of ordinary working people have been brought to the center stage, but action will not be taken on our behalf unless we keep the focus on them. Allowing inertia to take over will mean that the promise which many of us see in the Obama presidency will be lost as the normal culture of corporate lobbying resumes. This caveat applies to a multitude of issues on all levels of government.
So I ask each of you now:
- • Do you want Congress to pass the Performers’ Rights Bill? Then help us lobby your representative to become a co-sponsor.
- • Do you want our schools to make arts education a part of every student’s curriculum? Then sign up to lobby with the Music Educators’ Association of New York City in Albany on March 9, 2009.
- • Perhaps most important of all, do we want health care reform? Again, winning on this issue will require lobbying so that Congress hears the voice of the people over the voice of the insurance industry.
If you want to get involved, it doesn’t have to consume a lot of time — it just means making phone calls or writing letters when they are needed. Contact Local 802 Political Director Paul Molloy to join Local 802 Power Boosters at (212) 245-4802, ext. 176 or Pmolloy@Local802afm.org. We welcome your participation.
FACING THE FUTURE OR THE PAST –
A FINAL THOUGHT
I recently read an Internet message which draws parallels between the current AFM administration and that of James Petrillo. It’s not productive to debate the specifics of the piece (and I am not equipped to do so, since I was 12 when Petrillo left office), but I would put out the following observation for consideration. Concentrating on past events is generally a losing strategy since it often stems from a failure to observe and adapt to changing circumstances. It is a hallmark of losing campaigns and moribund organizations.
Our current circumstances in the AFM can, in my opinion, be attributed to a failure to keep up with the evolution of the entertainment industry. For half a century or more, we have preferred to allow work to go non-union rather than adapt to changes in the music business. The result is reduced market share and therefore reduced bargaining strength. Our focus should be on how we can increase union density in our industry and bring more work under contract. Only when we have the vast majority of work under union contract can we enjoy the maximum amount of leverage against employers when we sit down to bargain. Given that the only thing that is certain is that there will be even more change in our industry, we will inevitably fail if we fixate on the past and refuse to develop a rational and realistic plan to anticipate and accommodate the inevitability of change
To bring this point back to our recent election, President-elect Obama has correctly observed that the solutions to our problems are ahead, not in the rear mirror. Longing for a past that is gone — calling every attempt to navigate future challenges a sell out without regard to the economic landscape — undermines any hope that our union will in fact be able to accommodate and master new challenges.