Posted by: kokoro | 16th Feb, 2009

Kelley, Three Strikes, 1936 Musicians’ Strike

Kelley discusses the unsuccessful, mostly unforgettable 1936 strike by the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) against theatres due to their firing at the advent of sound pictures. Nonetheless, the strike provides some interesting observations about the nature of labor and labor unions. The musicians’ strike shows the limits of solidarity. What happens when employees don’t see themselves as workers or aren’t seen by others as workers? What happens when the interests of laborers of the arts clash with the desires of working-class consumers? What kind of music exists under capitalism, where new inventions are created for its mass-production and distribution?

Early movie theatres’ productions closely resembled variety shows. They showed newsreels, vaudeville performances (including blackface minstrelsy), and a feature film, with a varying number and types of musicians providing the music. In the late 1920s, soundtracks were added to pictures, removing the necessity of musicians, and standardizing the musical accompaniment, which many studios had tried to due with cue sheets for the musicians.

Most musicians were fired, and they tried to gain support from the public. However, the public enjoyed the talkies, particularly because the admission price dropped with the removal of the vaudeville acts. The musicians simply couldn’t gain public and trade union support.

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