A tiny perfect strike

It was a tiny perfect strike. (Torontonians and expat Gary Hanson will get the reference. The rest of you can Google David Crombie.)

Out on Monday, back on Tuesday, very little blood on the floor. Not bad for a band that had not struck its employer in 30 years. The musicians did all the right things. They did their homework and presented their arguments in a compelling and articulate fashion. The engaged a financial expert with a bulletproof cred to counsel them and to validate their bargaining positions and strategy. Their website was attractive and dignified.

And they took the high road. Workers in a labor dispute will often use a major public event as a strike target. Not so the musicians of The Cleveland Orchestra. They stayed on the job and played the Martin Luther King concert for the people of Cleveland on Sunday, using the opportunity to explain, more in sorrow than in anger, why they would not be performing on Monday. By Tuesday it was all over.

The last time I witnessed a tiny perfect strike was in 1998 when Canada’s National Arts Centre Orchestra hit the pavement, also for just one day. Like the TCO musicians they opted to play the major event – in this case a gala fundraiser – rather than strike it, and used the opportunity to reach out to those who support the organization.

So why were these two strikes so efficient when others have dragged on for weeks? Here are some things they had in common that might be considered key ingredients for a tiny perfect strike:

  • Solidarity
  • A firm resolve
  • Good preparation
  • A well-run, successful orchestra (aka a good employer)
  • Respectful dialog, internally and externally
  • Proposals that were “in the zone” rather than miles apart

There is such a thing as a good strike. Sometimes management just needs a little help to get the board to move. Sometimes the musicians and their union need to make it clear to management that they will strike if they have to.

So will it be another 30 years before the musicians of The Cleveland Orchestra find themselves on strike again? Hard to say. The parties appear to have a shared vision for the orchestra but negotiations tend to be difficult. It is not clear whether this strike was caused by a fundamental disagreement about the role that musicians’ compensation should play in achieving that vision, or if this was merely a border skirmish within mutually accepted boundaries.

To be continued…

About the author

Laura Brownell

Leave a Reply