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Home » Officer Columns » 101st Convention: Real Unionism

101st Convention: Real Unionism

  -  AFM International President

Together We Can!

One hundred and twenty-three years after our founding Convention in Indianapolis in October 1896, the Federation convened its 101st Convention on June 20 in Las Vegas. With more than a century of advocacy and 101 conventions to its credit, the Federation’s enormous accomplishments for professional musicians, economically and politically, were celebrated not just by elected officials and delegates, but by our sister unions, dignitaries, and guests.

Presiding over the debate on Resolution 8, which was defeated.

In memorializing these historic anniversaries—and our accomplishments—nothing could have clarified the Federation’s purpose better than the diverse program of superb musical performances presented from the eve of the convention to adjournment. For anyone who might have wondered why on earth there ever was an American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada, just hearing the supreme musicianship of such instrumental luminaries as Blue Lou Marini; Walt Fowler; University of North Texas Jazz Faculty Mike Steinel, Ed Soph, John Adams, Fred Hamilton, Rosana Eckert, and Brian Piper; the touching memorial service accompaniment by members of the Las Vegas Philharmonic Orchestra; and the many other fine performances by Local 369 musicians during the course of our meetings provided a musical explanation, nourishment, and context. The power of our members’ music became the backdrop for the attitudes, the issues, and the discussions that followed.

As those present would realize—particularly after hearing heartfelt testimonials by Matt Comerford of the Chicago Lyric Opera and Terryl Jares, president of Local 10-208, on the recent Lyric Opera and Chicago Symphony strikes; Local 72-147 bluesman Jim Suhler with Omaha Local 70-558 president Dan Cerveny about the abuse and default experienced in an Omaha nightclub; enthusiastic Boise Philharmonic Orchestra Musicians who demanded and obtained recognition from their management, prompting the re-chartering of AFM’s Boise Local 423; and the powerful narrative and video presentation from Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra Negotiating Committee members Dan Sigale and Julie Vinsant who, with the unwavering support of Dallas-Fort Worth Local 72-147 and AFM’s Organizing and Symphonic Services Divisions, withstood a terrible four-month strike, defeating attempts by management to impose unjustified concessions—the power of real unionism can make a difference in musicians’ lives, helping build the unity necessary to inspire millions of musicians worldwide.

As many of you know, in addition to reviewing various bylaw changes and policy resolutions, convention delegates elect Federation officers for three-year terms effective August 1 of each convention year. I am honored and privileged to have been reelected by acclamation to serve another term, and I am also deeply gratified that delegates chose to reelect by acclamation Vice-President Bruce Fife, Vice-President from Canada Alan Willaert, and Secretary-Treasurer Jay Blumenthal. Current executive committee members John Acosta, Tino Gagliardi, Dave Pomeroy, and Tina Morrison were also reelected, along with Local 161-710 President Ed Malaga, a newly elected member of the committee. First and foremost, we are a team, and we will continue to work together to improve the condition of the Federation and the livelihood of musicians everywhere, as we have done over the past nine years.

The 101st Convention was certainly a major celebration, but it was also a time to remember what our ancestors were doing when they started their engines in Indianapolis 123 years ago—a dangerous time for unions. Our founders were activists. They believed that by working together through concerted activity, they could save lives. They also knew there would be the hate-preaching, the scapegoating, and the divisiveness that comes with the territory. They knew that some of our own members would become union busters to pursue their own selfish politics of personal enrichment. They knew it would be a fight.

That is why it was important to remember who we are, where we came from, what we did, and how we did it over a span of 101 conventions, before and after the advent of technology, the invention of records, radio, film, the talkies, television, cable, the internet, on-demand streaming, and everything else. What did we do in the beginning?

We didn’t make excuses. We got out of our own way. We worked together, we compromised and organized. Our founders were in it to build a union that would endure for generations. They knew the way to reach our potential and grow a strong union was to agree on a set of unifying principles to build union power, and then aim that power toward our employers to promote fairness and improve members’ lives. And it’s just as important to know that when we abandon the principles that bound us together to begin with, we lose. We hurt each other, and we become the very thing that destroys us—where members take from each other what they believe they can’t get from the employer.

Together, we can make a difference. Our staff and our team of elected officials have made a difference. Local officers and members across the Federation who’ve stood up to employers have made a difference. We’ve endured for 123 years because we are hopeful and because of our members’ incredible talent.

As musicians, we have power. Through the power of our music, we have the strength to find the unity we need to achieve our goals.

That is why the 101st Convention was a renewal of faith in what we can do together, about remembering the great things we did together, and what we can be. We can do it all again, because we have to. Our union must be about what we can do for each other, not to each other. It’s about sticking together and protecting each other, because TOGETHER, WE CAN! That’s real unionism. That is our purpose, and that is why we are the American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada. God bless this union. Here’s to another 123 years.

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