My most vivid memory of my one night on the frontlines of the labor movement is that I’m not really cut out for class warfare, as I discovered when I shook hands with Barenboim. I had previously met plenty of CEOs, university presidents, Hollywood celebrities and other imposing personages, but major league conductors like Barenboim are in a class by themselves for superb attire, grooming, and (of course) gesture. World class conductors like Barenboim carry themselves like the living embodiment of Western high culture (which they are), and it's pretty awe-imposing. I wanted to ask Barenboim how much his suit cost (so I could start saving up to get one), but I realized that would be a faux pas. I suddenly felt terrible guilty that my father-in-law was temporarily depriving wealthy season ticketholders of the pleasure of basking in Maestro Barenboim’s radiance.
But my wife’s dad, who played the most blue-collar of classical instruments, the tuba, was made of tougher stuff. He and his colleagues at the CSO subunion kept the orchestra out for eleven concerts, then signed a satisfactory deal.
Of course, Chicago Symphony Orchestra musicians are not exactly strawberry pickers, with their minimum salary of $144,000. Why do they need to go on strike?
I’ve noticed that the public find the news of strikes extremely agitating. I only went to hear the CSO play once in the 18 years I lived in Chicago, but as soon as I read that the CSO was out on strike, I felt a sudden urge to fly from L.A. to Chicago to hear them play, which the strike was, obviously, stopping me from doing. It’s a lot like when CalTrans announces a new Carmaggedon shutting down the 405 freeway in Sepulveda Pass. I instantly get the urge to drive to the Santa Monica Beach the night of the impasse to see if, uh, the grunion are running. Granted, I’ve never gone to a grunion run in my entire life, but if you tell me I can’t, I sure want to go. The same is true with strikes. When the Chicago teachers went out on strike I suddenly was struck by the thought that if I suddenly moved back to Chicago and enrolled my sons in public school there, there would be no classes for them tomorrow. (Of course, I never had while we lived there, and they're past K-12 age now, but that's what reading about strikes in the newspaper does to your psyche.)
All this psychic agitation was hell on Democratic presidents from Truman thru LBJ. Their allies were going out on strike and the public looked to the Democratic president to heal the waters.
So, why do the highest paid orchestra need to strike. They don't need to, but they are in the best position to, since the CSO has the goal of being the best orchestra in America. The simple answer is that the richest musicians go on strike because they are the best and thus the hardest to replace. Without severe government favoritism, unions end up being guilds for NBA players and similar superstars. My father-in-laws strategy was to emphasize the CSO and the Lyric Opera, then hold on the line on insisting that Broadway touring companies and ballets coming to Chicago have live orchestra. The night club bands and the wedding bands would more or less have to shift for themselves. There is a big pyramid of talent out there, with the CSO at the top. Where would management get strikebreakers? (The NFL owners are today noticing that the NFL referees the locked out really are better than the replacements they rounded up.)
PS: I see the new strike appears to have been settled after a day.