The musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra are to be lauded for the strong and unified position they maintained throughout their 7-week strike—the longest in their 128-year history. Their unified stand was crucial to achieving settlement. Our ICSOM orchestras and other AFM colleagues donated nearly a quarter million dollars to help the CSO musicians sustain their fight. The collective action of all these musicians standing together, along with their patrons, supporters, and other unions, brought about a more equitable resolution. Corporations and governments don’t willingly concede to share prosperity. Citizens coming together collectively—in trade unions and workers associations—push to change the way our economy functions.
The financial woes of our AFM Employer Pension Fund have created a serious challenge to our union solidarity. It is understandable that the uncertainty of promised benefits has created apprehension and anger within our membership and among AFM-EPF participants. Sacrifices will be necessary. But we must not give in to the anger at the expense of our unity. Pope Francis said, “The culture of solidarity means seeing others not as rivals or statistics, but as brothers and sisters.” We must recognize that the burden of sacrifice needs to be borne equitably by the entire membership. It is worse than pointless to apportion blame—it serves only to inflame an already divisive situation, which then further jeopardizes our solidarity. We need to make the pension whole so that younger members are not unduly burdened nor discouraged entirely from union membership. By setting aside the hostility and acknowledging that we are in this together, immediately and irrevocably, we can maximize the potential for solutions that will preserve our pension, our union, and our solidarity.
All of our ICSOM orchestras are involved with community programs that demonstrate solidarity with their neighbors while furthering social justice within their communities. Extending the scope and reach of classical music outside the concert hall enables people who might never have heard a live classical performance the opportunity to experience our art form. Over and above that, if our orchestra members are invested in their community, that investment will have a positive effect on the concert stage as well.
A few notable examples:
- The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s Music for Food is a musician-led initiative for local hunger relief that raises money for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.
- Grand Rapids Symphony has teamed up with Spectrum Health Music Therapy for the Music for Health Initiative bringing live music into healthcare settings.
- The Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Youth Orchestra Los Angeles (YOLA) sponsors eight youth orchestras in four underserved neighborhoods in the LA area.
- Musicians from the Phoenix Symphony participated in a clinical study in collaboration with the Arizona State University College of Nursing about the effects of live music on dementia and Alzheimer’s patients.
- In addition to a third trip to Haiti to mentor young music students, musicians from the Colorado Symphony serenaded staff and patients at 25 Davita Dialysis Centers and presented a Concerts for Canines that raised money for animal cancer research.
These activities send a clear message of unity and personal investment that goes well beyond the bounds of our union. Yet they perfectly illustrate the virtue of solidarity—the devotion of time, effort and energy, standing shoulder to shoulder with our fellow citizens, in order to make our communities a better place for everyone. Our solidarity gives us the possibility and the power to create change in our society.
Note: the author is ICSOM chairperson.