One of the first things I did when I moved to New York was to join the American Federation of Musicians Local 802. My reasons for doing so were partly self-serving -- union members get access to the Local 802 rehearsal space, which is the best deal in NYC. And as a freelance copyist by day, I pretty much had to join if I wanted to work on any Broadway shows or film scores. But I am a huge, straight-up supporter of the union movement generally. Unions are the only protection workers have against exploitation by the corporate elite, who have more power today than at any time since the Gilded Age -- and the current economic crisis is likely to only increase the clout of those at the top, which makes unions more important than ever. Seriously, I'm so old-school, the lyrics to "Solidarity Forever" make me all weepy, thinking of how long and hard working people have fought just to get a fair share of the wealth they produce. This struggle is no joke -- the ruling class used to kill union organizers in this country. They are still doing it in countries like Colombia.
RE: "Solidarity Forever," I am especially partial to these verses:
It is we who plowed the prairies; built the cities where they trade
Dug the mines and built the workshops, endless miles of railroad laid
Now we stand outcast and starving midst the wonders we have made
But the union makes us strong.
They have taken untold millions that they never toiled to earn,.
But without our brain and muscle not a single wheel can turn.
We can break their haughty power, gain our freedom when we learn
That the union makes us strong
So I've been proud to be a member of the AFM. Of course, like everyone else I have my misgivings about their slowness to adapt to the challenges of today, and their inability to play a relevant role in the lives of musicians of my generation. Still, the work they do is vital to maintaining the health of NYC's music scene — to cite one direct example, many of the musicians in Secret Society would not be able to play our absurdly low-paying gigs if they did not also have a regular, unionized Broadway gig to pay the rent. And the AFM protects their right to occasionally sub out of their show to play our hits without getting fired or sanctioned.
Given all of the above, I can't help but be incredibly depressed to see this news:
But in October's International Musician, President Tom Lee says that our "International Executive Board has chosen to not make an endorsement for President this year" citing "surveys" showing that "union members do not wish to be told for whom to vote."
You have got to be shitting me.
For the record, here is a partial the list of the national unions that have endorsed Barack Obama for president:
American Federation of Government Employees
American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO)
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees
American Federation of Teachers
American Nurses Association
American Postal Workers Union
American Small Business League
Association of Flight Attendants
Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers
Change to Win Federation
International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers
International Association of Fire Fighters
International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers
International Brotherhood of Teamsters
International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers
International Union of Painters and Allied Trades
National Air Traffic Controllers Association
National Association of Letter Carriers
National Education Association
Service Employees International Union
Transport Workers Union
United American Nurses
United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing, Pipefitting and Sprinkler Fitting Industry of the United States and Canada
United Auto Workers Union
United Food and Commercial Workers
United Healthcare Workers West
United Mine Workers
Utility Workers Union of America
But not the American Federation of Musicians. That's pathetic.
At least Local 802 is doing the right thing, but our international executive board is an embarrassment. What possible benefit do they think they will obtain by refusing to endorse Obama?
I leave the final word to Brother Ed Shamgochian of AFM Local 134:
[O]fficial silence from the AFM is a disservice to our members, and to unionism in general, which developed out of democratic principles, has been constantly threatened by Republicans for more than two decades, and which is supported by only one of the two candidates for President today: Barack Obama.