What Did You Learn In School Today?

Music & Power

Volume CVIII, No. 6June, 2008

Ethan Fein

This is the first installment of a series of articles which will try to explain a new effort by Local 802 to promote live music. The articles will chronicle a personal journey in which I learned about some new union techniques and tactics that we can apply to promote our art form and our future survival. I will share what I have learned already, and also those things I hope to learn as we move forward. There is too much information to include in one place at one time, so please bear with me.

I was sent to the Cornell Union Leadership Institute by Local 802 and learned a few things. Many of the problems we have at Local 802 are problems which beset all unions today in the United States. The primary problem is a loss of power, a loss of ability to get what we want. What we want is work. Since we’re artists, getting work advances our music. Much as we love music by great, deceased musicians, we think live music is the way to go.

The traditional means that unions have used to advance their causes do not work as well as they once did. At Cornell, I was introduced to the writing of Saul Alinsky. Alinsky wrote a book called “Rules for Radicals.” In this book, Alinsky delineated “13 rules for power.” Here they are:

  1. Power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have.
  2. Never go outside the experience of your people.
  3. Wherever possible, go outside of the experience of the enemy.
  4. Make the enemy live up to their own book of rules.
  5. Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.
  6. A good tactic is one that your people enjoy.
  7. A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag.
  8. Keep the pressure on.
  9. The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.
  10. The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition.
  11. If you push a negative hard and deep enough it will break through into its counterside.
  12. The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.
  13. Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.

Each of these rules require greater explanation. I list them here as a tease. I hope readers will investigate them further, but I will refer to them and expound on them in this forum in future installments.

Alinsky’s approach is a basis for a relatively new tactic for unions called the corporate Campaign. A corporate campaign is a non-traditional way for unions to accomplish what they want. I learned about corporate campaigns at Cornell. I also learned that the primary proponent of corporate campaigns (Mike Locker and Locker Associates) works as a consultant to unions planning corporate campaigns.

The word “corporate” in corporate campaign means that we would attempt to co-opt the corporations which are usually our opponents (or “enemies,” as Alinsky liked to say). In a corporate campaign we would try to get the corporations to work with us, to find areas where we share mutual interests. For many years, I have heard musicians agonize over the inability of us to find common cause with employers, and society in general. A well-run corporate campaign can achieve this goal.

At first, it seemed a good idea to hire this consultant and develop a corporate campaign to promote live music and reverse the trend which seems to be heading us toward oblivion.

In thinking this through, we at Local 802 bumped up against something called “corporate unionism.” Corporate unionism is a description of a union which functions in a way that perversely mimics the way corporations operate. In corporate unionism the union works as a service to its members in exchange for dues. Although this may seem at first to be a perfectly good arrangement, it has proven to be a long-term disaster for unions.

Unions should be cooperative ventures. When the members think the officers and staff are service providers, the union loses its power in external struggles. Internally, it is a big first step toward corruption of various kinds, including alienation between the members and the officers and staff. Hiring a consultant to do everything for us is not a recipe for success. We have to organize ourselves, before anything else happens.

We need a group of people who will do some of the heavy lifting. Different people bring different skills to various jobs which need to be done. The best way for us to operate is to get people to do what they prefer to do. We need to spread the work among us so we can keep up the pressure without depending too much on too few individuals. We need to prevent burnout. We must start contacting members and recruit support for a struggle which has been put off for far too long.

To this end, I hope you will follow this series of reports. You will also be approached by what we hope will be an expanding group of activists asking for help. We hope you will listen and volunteer when and if you can.