Thursday, January 14, 2010

Musicians' Strike in Louisville (1913)

These excerpts come from the "Correspondence" section of Moving Picture World. In them, the correspondent from Louisville, G. D. Crain, reports on the response to a musicians' and operators' strike in the area's theaters. Crain gives the impression that the initial musicians' strike itself was a rather minor matter because they could easily be replaced by mechanical music (presumably player pianos and perhaps phonographs). But the situation was made more difficult by the decision by the operators' union to support the musicians. The show could not go on without projectionists. Crain applauds the exhibitors' decision to bring in non-union operators from out of town to break the strike and thoroughly approves of banning the union strikers from future employment in town. Indeed, he recommends that other exhibition associations follow the Louisville model closely. The second excerpt from the following week adds some details, confirming that the strike had been broken by firing all the union operators, while also noting the original demands of the musicians' union. The third excerpt, which is much shorter, comes from the third week and is more temperate in tone. The fourth excerpt, which follows two weeks after the third, marks Crain's full-throated return to the side of the exhibitors.

A second post will follow the developments of the strike.

The strike of union musicians, believed to be of comparatively little importance, has assumed serious proportions through the sympathy of union operator, and exhibitors are now facing a strike of the latter. It is stated, however, that little inconvenience will be suffered by the exhibitors, as operators have been gathered from nearby cities and are now waiting to take the places of the men who walk out. The manner in which the Louisville Photoplay Association has acted as a unit in handling the proposition has been an example to organizations in other sections of the country, and friends of the exhibitors are proud of their business-like handling of the situation. The operators’ strike was directed at the Broadway Amusement Company, controlling the East Broadway, West Broadway and Ideal Theaters. Those houses recently installed automatic musical instruments, following the walkout of union musicians. The operators announced that out of sympathy with the musicians the operators in the three moving picture houses would walk out on Saturday, December 14th. This ultimatum was submitted to the Louisville Photoplay Association, composed of owners of 18 theaters. The association replied that should the operators in the houses designated leave their work, the 15 employed by the other association members might also leave a week later. The operators at the three theaters obeyed the instructions of the Operators’ Union and went out on the date above mentioned. Accordingly the association gave due and formal notice to the operators employed in the other houses controlled by the association that they could leave on a date later in December. Preparations have been completed with non-union operators in other cities, and no delay is expected should the operators leave. The men coming into Louisville will be paid the union scale of wages, while the head operators will be allowed expense accounts to cover living costs. It is believed that if the operators once leave, their services will never be required in Louisville motion picture theaters again. All of the theaters in Louisville, with four exceptions, are members of the Louisville Photoplay Association. Non-members are the Hopkins Theater, Norman Theater, Avenue and Palace. The operators’ difficulty followed that of the musicians, which was caused over a disagreement in regard to the time clause in the contracts between exhibitors and musicians. The original trouble was one which might have been adjusted had the musicians kept their heads and refrained from dictation. Theaters which will be affected should the operators strike, which seems certain, are the following: East Broadway, West Broadway, Ideal, Majestic, Royal, Hippodrome, Olympic, Sun, Pastime, Novelty, Casino, Columbia, Crystal, Orpheum, Crown, Preston, Clifton and Empire. Non-union operators took the places of the regular men at the theaters deserted by the union employes [sic], and those houses have been operated as in the past.

G. D. Crain, Jr., “Correspondence: Louisville,” Moving Picture World 4 January 1913, 66.

The past week, as a matter of course, has been one of the most prosperous of he entire year with the moving picture exhibitors of Louisville and Kentucky. Christmas time invariably develops business to the fullest possible extent for all shows. All conditions affecting the development of patronage have been very favorable, and while the capability of the houses to handle any audiences coming to them was threatened for a time by the impending strike, this labor difficulty has been met without the least serious embarrassment. Local theater owners and managers are delighted that the insurgency of their operators, coming at the most inopportune moment as it did, was met in so capable a manager and proved to be of comparatively trivial nature. The difficulty in which the trade hereabouts has become involved may be termed trivial because the most vital matter at which it was directed—the operation or suspension of local houses—has not been affected. As was anticipated, twenty-three operators employed by members of the Louisville Photoplay Association and belonging to the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Local No. 168, were dismissed last Saturday night and non-union men were put into their places. The trouble began some time ago, when the exhibitors and their musicians could not agree as to a new form of contract which was proposed for 1912-13 by the Musicians’ Mutual Protective Association, Local No. 11, specifying that the orchestra members in local picture shows shall be given at least three months’ notice by their employers before termination of the contract. The new form provides that an incompetent man, or one who does not meet the requirements of his employer by reason of a personal failing, may be dismissed in short and accustomed order.

The exhibitors have felt that they cannot meet the demand of the musicians in this connection, and the rupture between the employing trade and the unionized branches has resulted. When a few union men walked out in sympathy with the musicians a short time ago, notice was served that the remaining unionists would be dismissed immediately and this has been done.

Since the strike has actually been broken, and non-union operators have been taken on by the house owners and managers, the situation is strained but easier. One or two attempts of discharged employees to remove fuses and otherwise incapacitate picture machines have been reported, but the exhibitors are on guard, employing experts from other cities to take charge of their operating-rooms, and the general attitude of the two parties is one of friendship. Harry Hughes, business agent of the local operators’ organization, and Oscar Shreck, of Cleveland, O., third vice-president of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, have charge of the situation from the operators’ end, and declare that a firm stand will be maintained, while the members of the Louisville Photoplay Association are equally confident of being able to hold their own. The present chance of a compromise or of one side or the other winning is very vague, inasmuch as the business of not a single house has been interrupted, and the exhibitors declare that they are doing admirably with men from other cities at their machines.

G. D. Crain, Jr., “Correspondence: Louisville,” Moving Picture World 11 January 1913, 169.

There is little to be said regarding the strike which is on in Louisville moving picture circles. The union operators have left their posts quietly, barring incidental happenings of an undesirable nature which arose when the trouble first developed, and both this contingent and the exhibitors are maintaining a dignified, conservative stand. Neither side evidences any disposition to capitulate. The employers say that they are willing to accept union labor without a murmur if certain concessions touching the employment of musicians are made them. The operators and musicians, who have allied forces, declare that this will never be done. This is the situation. The positions of all operators who have left active service have been filled with men from other cities, and no trouble between the strikers and their successors has been experienced, while every show has been given according to schedule and the day’s business has not been embarrassed in the least. The exhibitors have handled the operators’ strike in the manner in which they dealt with the walk-out of the musicians three months ago, not the least trouble having been encountered in either instance.

[. . .]

A. L. Ward, an expert union moving picture operator, who is on strike with his colleagues as the result of the disagreement in this city, has cooperated with C. F. Dunn, a photoplay musician, to organize a company of eight union theatrical employees who will prove that the unionist locked out of a position is fully able to take care of himself. The company has secured a couple of up-to-date machines and a number of good reels, with which it will tour Kentucky and neighboring states during the next three months, showing in town after town and staging a moving picture performance which will undoubtedly deliver the goods for the peripatetic exhibitors.

G. D. Crain, Jr. “Correspondence: Louisville,” Moving Picture World 18 January 1913, 277.

Despite the walkout or “lockout” of union operators by members of the Louisville Photoplay Association, attendance at the eighteen theaters in the organization is suffering to no extent. The association has decided to continue its policy of showing high grade films, ignoring the subject of the strike. Despite the efforts of the union operators and musicians to keep the subject alive, the public is fast forgetting that a strike is in progress, and the situation is regaining its former status. The new operators are filling the gap satisfactorily, and no damage is being sustained from poor work in the booths. The exhibitors expect to die a natural death in the near future. The operators and musicians recently shot their last bolt when they issued several thousand cards and distributed them among the crowds on Fourth Street. “The Avenue is the only picture theater on Fourth Avenue employing Union musicians and operators,” read the placards. The public was evidently too busy to listen to the strikers’ woes, as was attested by a huge pile of cards which were thrown in the gutter at Fourth and Green Streets.

G. D. Crain, “Correspondence: Louisville,” Moving Picture World 1 February 1913, 480.