A View of Struggle in Kentucky
The Louisville Orchestra Wins a Tough Battle
by Ira Grupper
Labor Paeans - June 2012
FORsooth, newspaper of Louisville KY chapter of FOR,
Fellowship of Reconciliation)
(Note: The Labor Paeans column was carried by FORsooth from
1998 until it was retired as a monthly earlier this year. It
is now returning as an occasional commentary).
Local 11-637 of The American Federation of Musicians, and
the Louisville Orchestra Inc. (LOI - the management),
recently signed an agreement, ending a lockout of workers
from their jobs that began in May 2011.
To understand this we need to travel way back to 1697 and
listen to William Congreve: "Music has Charms to soothe a
savage Breast,/ To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak."
More recently, an unsoothed savage breast, marked by
malignant greed, class antagonism and lack of common
decency, descended upon the Louisville Orchestra. Management
offered an unacceptable contract, and the union said "no."
Louisville Orchestra management then began hiring "scabs,"
non-union replacements: "Openings are available for
qualified symphonic musicians looking for permanent
employment to replace musicians."
The bosses claimed they had no money to pay the musicians a
decent wage, and then said they must also "downsize," a
euphemism for throwing employees out of their jobs.
The Louisville Orchestra and the Fund for the Arts boards of
directors are dominated by Louisville's financial elite:
bankers, stock brokers, realtors, manufacturers, law firms,
health care providers and profiteers, and utility
executives. There is big money behind these folks.
Yet and still, orchestras are in crisis all over the
country. The League of American Orchestras reported that US
orchestra paid attendance fell 8% between 2002 and 2007.
Young people don't attend orchestra performances as much as
older people. As older people move on, will there be
replacements from the younger generation? Yes, but only if
there is music appreciation in the school curricula.
Truth be told, music appreciation in the classroom is dying.
In Indiana, the Monroe County Community School Corporation
voted to trim $4.5 million.
Louisville Orchestra management filed for bankruptcy in late
2010. In May, 2011 the union contract expired. Both the
Bankruptcy Court hearings and the negotiations between the
musicians union and management were well covered by local
media and extended over more than six months.
When the 2011-12 school year started in September, 2011, the
staff of the Jefferson County School Board (JCSB), as well
as its seven Board members, were well aware that the
management of LOI was not going to be able to fulfill a
contract that both parties had signed long ago for a music
appreciation program, scheduled for the spring of 2012. The
contract was supposed to be the continuation of a 70 year-
old joint effort.
Regretfully, JCSB became an objective ally of Louisville
Orchestra management. The school board canceled this 70
year-old music appreciation program for all 14,000 4th and
5th-grade students this year, depriving LO musicians of a
desperately needed source of income. The JCSB, in essence,
let itself be dictated to by a vendor that could not fulfill
a signed contract.
"Keep Louisville Symphonic," a non-profit formed by the
locked-out orchestra musicians, was, on the other hand,
indeed able to fulfill the contract that LOI could not. But
the School Board scrapped the program just the same, using
the excuse that it was too late for the music appreciation
program to take place in the coming school year.
When the orchestra management began advertising for outside
musicians, so as to break the back of the union, there were
reports that the musicians recruited to replace the locked-
out Louisville Orchestra musicians would be coming from the
ranks of Catholic high school music students and from the
Jewish Community Center Orchestra.
Catholic Social Justice informs us: "The economy must serve
people, not the other way around. All workers have a right
to productive work, to decent and fair wages, and to safe
working conditions." What would Thomas Merton say about
I spoke with a prominent member of the Louisville Jewish
community, and he called the replacement musicians by their
rightful name: "scabs". Yet the deafening silence on this
issue by the mainstream Jewish community contradicts a point
made by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel: "morally speaking,
there is no limit to the concern one must feel for the
suffering of human beings, that indifference to evil is
worse than evil itself, that in a free society, some are
guilty, but all are responsible."
A notable exception in the Jewish community was Uriel
Siegel, the distinguished maestro who served as Music
Director of the Louisville Orchestra for six years, and who
came back to Louisville a few months ago to picket the
Kentucky Opera alongside the locked-out musicians and their
supporters. (The lockout also had adverse consequences for
the Kentucky Opera and the Louisville Ballet.)
The union musicians and the orchestra management finally did
reach an agreement. It was a tribute to the tenacity of our
brave band of musicians; they got what they got under dire
circumstances - musicians with major illnesses who were
facing big hospital bills and no health insurance, for
Local government had become involved. A key role was played
by Metro Council President Jim King, no big-time friend of
working people but someone who may be positioning himself to
run for mayor next time around. He was perceptive enough to
want an agreement. Kentucky AFL-CIO President Bill Londrigan
played an important role, as well.
The musicians behaved with dignity, integrity and
steadfastness in the face of a management determined to
break its back and destroy its union. To those who knew
right from wrong in this struggle of workers versus bosses
and said nothing, we quote the words of Anaïs Nin: "And the
day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more
painful than the risk it took to blossom."
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