There is no more important word in a union member’s vocabulary than “solidarity.” It speaks to everything we stand for as union members and as working people. Solidarity is the only viable defense for those without power, wealth, or position. Nowhere have we seen this truth more evident than in our recent battle on Broadway.
We were fighting to preserve the artistic integrity of Broadway, a profitable industry that generates hundreds of millions of dollars to the city’s economy, and gives over 1,000 musicians at least some level of employment, pension and health benefits.
We were up against an opponent that seemed to have trashed the decades of relationships and traditions built by small producers and theatre owners. These employers of the past had roots in the theatrical business. They were committed to the art form. They valued the craft of musical theatre, valued the sound of trumpet and an un-miked voice.
It’s a new world we’re dealing with, a world of corporate values where everyone is just a cog in the machine – actors, musicians, stagehands, composers, orchestrators, lyricists. We’re all just a potential source of profit and nothing more.
We face powerful corporate interests, intent on increasing profits and emboldened by virtual orchestra technology and a presumption that the Broadway unions would follow their historical path of discord by failing to unify.
While we were negotiating the artistic merits of orchestra sizes, they were simply trying to cut numbers to increase their bottom line.
While the League and their newfound corporate friends had enormous resources behind their campaign to reduce the minimums, they made a crucial mistake. They underestimated solidarity – the ability of the Broadway unions to look past historical differences and come together to ward off attempts at sacrificing quality on Broadway for short-term profits.
While the cuts we took are a bitter pill to swallow, we cannot overlook at least two achievements. First we have saved live theatre orchestras for the next ten years. And second, we have cemented new alliances that will help all Broadway workers for years to come.
The unprecedented solidarity expressed by Actors’ Equity and IATSE not only helped us fight off this immediate attack on our jobs, but – we hope over the long term – will help save Broadway from the bottom liners who would turn our industry into an urban theme park. Too often, these corporations are willing to sacrifice the future in order to increase profits in the present.
Together, Equity, IATSE and 802 refused to go down this disastrous path and instead chose to fight together against artistic compromise that would have resulted in the long term demise of Broadway.
The battle is not over. Equity has a contract up in one year, and IATSE in three. We must remember their invaluable assistance, and if the time comes for us to rise to the occasion by helping them ward off similar attacks on their livelihoods and the quality of their work, we must be there for them – for their sake as well as ours. This conflict will be ongoing.
When the League threatened us with the canned Muzak of virtual orchestras, they never could have imagined that we would emerge from this fight as the emboldened ones. We may be bruised but we’re not beaten. Our sense of solidarity with our sisters and brothers on Broadway and beyond has increased our resolve to maintain the artistic standards that have made musicals on Broadway the remarkable success that they are today.
The actors, stagehands and other theatrical workers stood with us. So did teachers, hotel workers, service workers, construction workers, transit workers and grocery workers.
Therefore, we will stand with our brothers and sisters in the labor movement when their safety and livelihoods are threatened.
Workers will always face obstacles in our society, and will often emerge from struggles both tired and bruised. It is solidarity that heals and invigorates and enables us to continue and win our fight for justice.