Cleveland Orchestra Workers' Strike Labor Term Paper

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This amount of leverage is rare in more standardized industries where management can break pickets with contract labor.

We see them affecting public opinion through their press releases and media control, which portrays management as derisive. This attempts to pinch off donations, which is a battle of attrition that will hurt the musicians in the end, but they are willing to sacrifice this in order to win the race to the bottom they portray management has gamed them into. We see the musicians trying to build goodwill by donating ten performances a year, which is a direct pay issue analogous to taking work home in other industries, but which makes them appear reasonable and eager to work. Promising to reschedule missed concerts follows this type of PR strategy.

5. Without actually attending meetings at the table or on the shop floor, we have to speculate about many of the obstacles they faced trying to organize and act. Union leaders would not have leaked these obstacles to the press, because the next round of contract negotiations is always only a year away for them it seems. There were probably the usual morale issues, where individual workers saw their own interests as disconnected from the bargaining unit and grumbled amongst each other outside of work. Management probably aggravated this by the usual tactics of harassing individuals for perceived violations; imposing rules or increasing surveillance; and all the various behaviors employers have put to use on shop floors since before Mother Jones walked the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The mainstream press, embodied by the New York Times, seems to have given them equal space with management (Wakin 2010), which is unusual considering huge firms like NYT have a direct stake in keeping examples of union power away from their own employees on the production line. But a deeper inspection reveals relatively sparse coverage in the global press, with much of the analysis coming through blogs or the culture sections of Sunday editions; indymedia and other 'radical' outlets rather than Ottoway, Inc. syndicate papers like the Wall Street Journal. This is the typical blackout most union action runs up against, and many of the links I tried on Google have since been taken down. There seems to be no record I could find of proceedings from the University of Michigan Orchestral Summit mentioned in Horowitz (2010), although that may just not be on the Internet. The only record that remains is from the Socialist or union side and the rest just disappears. This is the concerted attack all unions have faced for the last half century, which seems to have gone better for the musicians than is often the case.

6. Congressman Dennis Kucinich penned a letter on the musicians' behalf, along with letters of support from prominent critics and concertgoers. The other regional unions and even musicians as far away as Seattle supported them before and after, by engaging management in their own workplaces, which gave the Cleveland union a context in which to mold public opinion as part of a broader phenomenon taking place coast to coast. We can expect they found support from many in their local community although that record is fading away over time.

Their opponents run all the way from the bargaining table, i.e. management, to the big players behind union busting, the corporate interests who began offshoring Cleveland jobs in order to cut costs and maximize profits in the first place (Wakin 2010). The Tea Party. The Wall Street Journal and probably the Republican elected officials in their own home town. I speculate, but these are the big ideological players who have pushed unionism almost completely out of the American workplace, relentlessly searching for lower input costs (especially labor) and multinational corporate power. Many of these players were probably corporations these workers owned stock in through their very own retirement plans, which the corporations used to generate profits that accrue to the very people who underwrite union busting on Capitol Hill. But I don't see any major traditional villains like a governor calling in the national guard, or the usual cast of Pinkerton men or Phelps detectives. This was not a port or mine strike after all.

7. The musicians have to maintain and extend the market power they already have. They had some significant public support in 2010 but the public will eventually tire of them if they seem to be grasping for too much too often. The cross-union solidarity was deeply encouraging, and this provides clear indication the musicians need to consider integrated organization, although this bears some risk if they have to go out supporting less-renowned shops. One Big Orchestra Musician's Union could amplify leverage Cleveland will never be able to wield on its own, due to the nature of the industry, where if they push too hard, they can undermine their own reputation.. Our "buy local" strategy could increase public loyalty if Cleveland consumers understood that these workers purchase products the rest of them produce, like rent; homes; food; entertainment; transportation etc. They should convince locals that consuming imports is a leakage out of their own incomes if the orchestra workers don't have purchasing power to spend in Cleveland. They could repay this loyalty through discriminatory pricing schemes for local consumers by offering discounts for residents or even through non-economic rewards. These luxury goods consumers are already highly attenuated to prestige value. Offering seating or parking privilege for season pass holders, some kind of identification badge along the lines of the usual "I donated" bumper sticker, or a 'locals only' ticket line or lounge for example; are probably already in practice at the Cleveland Symphony, because they help build brand loyalty at very little cost. Countering substitution by changing programmes more often could stimulate sales. Building the strike fund back up would not be a mistake.

8. I would say they succeeded because they brought management back to the table far more quickly than other striking orchestras; they dodged economic cuts that would have undermined all future increases if they started from a new low to begin with; they built broad support as part of a national phenomenon that was larger than their shop, and publicized the takebacks in prior years' contracts. Workers demonstrated to management they could use their talent as a very sharp sword to threaten donations and earned income if they need to. While they gave up some earnings with the free performances and continue to lose ground with co-pays and vulnerable retirement benefits, these predated this action and give them something to bargain toward after they get their wages back to competitive levels. Did they lose anything? They are closer to the tipping point with public sentiment as discussed just above (q.7), but hopefully they won't need to resort to this level of reaction for a few years, especially if management pays the price for these shennanigans at the next Board of Directors or shareholder's meeting.


Horowitz, J. (23 Jan. 2010). Looking Beyond the Cleveland Strike. The Unanswered Question,

Arts Journal. Retrieved from

Rathbun, J. (17 Jan. 2010). Strike Statement. Cleveland Orchestra Musicians Archive for 2010.

Retrieved from

Taylor, P. et al. (2010). A Balance Sheet at 30 Months: How the Great Recession

Has Changed Life in America. Pew Research Center.

Wakin, D. (18 Jan. 2010).…

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