Last month’s “Beat on the Street” question about whether musicians are “artists” or “workers” continues to elicit responses.
We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately,” wrote Benjamin Franklin in 1776.
In other words — stick together, or die one at a time.
That’s a soundbite that can well apply to the AFM today.
I attended this year’s AFM Convention as an elected delegate of Local 204-373 (New Brunswick, New Jersey).
I had only one mission: to pass a bylaw resolution which would require AFM locals to affiliate with labor bodies. I succeeded.
Now, AFM locals will have to join larger union groups.
Local 802 is, of course, a member of the New York City Central Labor Council. But plenty of AFM locals around the country aren’t members of any labor group.
This legislation was necessary as a counter to an anti-labor sentiment in our federation. And there was opposition to it.
The excuses ran the gamut from “We can’t afford it” to “We don’t like organized labor.”
In fact, neither the Western AFM Conference nor the New England AFM Conference had previously signed onto it, which made it all the more surprising that it passed the national convention.
Fortunately, there were enough locals that identified with the labor movement at the convention to push this legislation through.
The excuse that always jarred the most was, “We aren’t like other unions.”
Not like other unions? Oh, yes: we are an association of “artists” — not workers!
(I can’t say for sure what kind of artists, but I’m sure the right term will eventually come to mind!)
It seems that some musicians can’t bear to identify with a nurse, or a teacher, or a bricklayer, or a transit worker. It was an affront for them to be lumped with people who get their hands dirty.
I traveled with the New Jersey State AFM Conference to support the picket line of the Philadelphia Orchestra when the musicians from AFM Local 77 (Philadelphia) were on strike a few years ago.
When I pulled up to the Academy of Music, I saw something the likes of which I’ve never seen.
The building was surrounded by big Teamster trucks! There was no way the Academy was going to conduct any business there.
There were folks from the airlines there who had faced Frank Lorenzo when he broke the backs of the airline unions, and there were construction workers, Teamsters, and folks from all walks of life.
Most of them didn’t know a whole note from a half note, but they all knew about health insurance, job security, working conditions, and being treated with dignity.
It was the help of these other workers that made the strike a success, thanks to the moxie of AFM Local 77 President Joe Parente, who had called on them.
We are not a powerful union. But we were once.
I have a Spike Jones video from around 1950 that features a bit when a musician in his band tells Spike “You can’t scare me, because there is someone watching over me” and Spike says “Yeah, who?” and the trumpet player yells out “Petrillo,” the whole band jumps to attention and salutes, and the audience is on the floor, laughing out loud.
The musician’s union was a lot better known, and it had a lot more power. Things are different now.
We alone can’t stop the music like we could then, but with the help of others, we still can be effective.
We can’t live in a vacuum, and we ignore our brothers and sisters at our own peril.
And in the end, that is really the bottom line.
The sooner folks start to realize that we are all in this together, the sooner this union will get stronger, and a strong union is the key to success.
For those of you old enough to remember the comic strip Pogo, his classic line still applies: “We have met the enemy, and the enemy is us.”