New Year’s Resolution: Be An Activist!

Volume 117, No. 12December, 2017

Tom Olcott

BIG ANNIVERSARY: The New York Pops celebrated the opening of its 35th season – and the centennial of the birth of the orchestra’s founder, Skitch Henderson – with a gala concert in late October. The concert featured the full 78-piece orchestra, which is covered by a Local 802 union contract. Photo: Richard Termine

As 2017 closes its doors, I’m taking a look back at some of the things I’ve said in these pages.

  • I’ve reported twice this year about the union’s financial condition. Thankfully, Local 802’s finances remain consistent and sustaining.
  • I’ve commented frequently on various developments in the classical music community. That world contains hardworking musicians producing beautiful art. Unfortunately, it also suffers from inadequate funding and a dearth of committed philanthropists who should be sitting on orchestra’s boards of directors.
  • Speaking of philanthropists, I’ve asked whether those with extraordinarily deep pockets might better send their largess to the smaller fish in the musical sea instead of donating all of their money to one building and naming it after themselves. Donating money to smaller ensembles would support more musicians and reach more people. The artistic and philanthropic effect would be wider and more inclusive.
  • I have written about the political environment in the United States. Along with many other Local 802 members and fellow Americans, I find the Trump administration poisonous, venal, unnecessarily cruel to many Americans, and utterly without any credible intellectual basis (other than the eradication and debasement of the Obama presidency). What we have is simply the total aggrandizement of the 1 percent and its insatiable need for an even larger share of the American economy. These economics don’t provide benefits to the working class – and never will. (Case in point: the Republican tax plan. Lower taxes for high earners have one effect: those individuals get more money. Period. Their increased bottom line does not flow back into the larger economy. It never has – see the Reagan years – and it won’t in 2018.)
  • On a personal note, I posted a Facebook item about the Nov. 5 massacre at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas. Look me up on Facebook and check it out if you have the time or interest. That post expresses my personal view only.

I could go on. I understand that each and every Local 802 member will not agree with these views. But from a basic unionist position, let me point out that the Trump “agenda” (as if he knew what he was actually proposing!) also includes national right-to-work legislation, ensuring that a union’s effective bargaining power would be eviscerated. (For more, see Maggie Russell-Brown’s analysis in this issue.)

On a related note, the new crop of appointees to the National Labor Relations Board promises to roll back any employee benefits that the same board under Obama found to be lawful. Local 802 members, along with all other members of the labor community, need to resist those proposals, which  would undermine our very existence as a union.

I mention all of this to suggest that Local 802 members might consider becoming even more politically active in a number of modes – depending, of course, on time and comfort level. If the things I wrote above have any resonance with you, perhaps consider the following:

  1. Make a real effort to discover how Local 802 really works. The officers and staff are not just sitting here like your bank branch. We need you to be involved and to understand that you are what constitute us as a union. We need to hear from you if something is not working for you – not as a complainant, but as a collaborator. Let’s work together.
  2. If you perform in one of our union ensembles, consider joining the musicians’ committee. Personally, I didn’t know much about Local 802 until I joined my orchestra’s committee so many years ago. Wow, were my eyes opened! By taking on this responsibility, you can make your career better and improve your union. We need your help!
  3. Do you like Donald Trump and his Republican allies? Perhaps you dislike them? In any case, get involved in politics! Do something! Don’t be passive while our democracy is at stake.
  4. On a similar note, put pressure on your elected leaders to protect the labor movement. Get educated about the anti-union campaigns that are afoot. Tell your officials how your life is improved by being a union member. Let your representatives know your union story.
  5. Get involved in gun CONTROL. Do what you can, each and every one of you, every day. Our current record of tragedies and atrocities caused by guns is a national disgrace and tragedy.

I don’t wish the above litany to read purely as a downer. It seems to me that if we all fight for a world that celebrates life, art, equality, rule of law and basic human decency, then we just might arrive in a better place, both individually as union members and also as a nation. Let’s make this our collective goal for 2018! Go for it, my friends and colleagues!

Tom Olcott is the financial vice president of Local 802, and the supervisor of the union’s concert department.