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Home » Officer Columns » So-so-so-solidarité!


  -  AFM International Executive Board and Executive Director Local 149 (Toronto, ON)

I have been an adherent to the concept of solidarity for as long as I can remember. It’s with me when I am on the picket line, it’s with me when I am in negotiations, it’s with me when I am organizing, it’s in my signature line, and it’s in my DNA.

For a period of time though, it seemed the word itself fell out of favour, and was only used by die-hard trade unionists. Other phrases to describe some of solidarity’s qualities took root—“together we win,” “in unison,” “collectivity.” But they don’t quite ring the same. For me, the very word solidarity is political—it’s against injustice.

So where does the term solidarity originate? And how is it applicable to our Federation of Musicians across two countries?

The term’s origins lie in the Roman legal concept of an obligation in solidum (Latin for “in total” or “the whole”)—a joint contractual obligation in which each signatory declares themself liable for all debt together and not just their individual share. It was introduced under French Napoleonic law.

Its broad usage came in 19th century France: as solidarité (undivided), adopted by the Paris Commune uprising and later the International Workers’ Congress: Capitalists need workers and vice versa. But workers can expect no mercy from capitalists. They can improve their status only by cementing their bonds with each other.

Theater, music, literature, and the fine arts were integral to the rising solidarity movements. In the United States and Canada trade unionism was growing, not just within the traditional industrial sector, but in the arts too—the American Federation of Musicians formed, as did the National Alliance of Stage Employees (the precursor to IATSE).

Recently, the term solidarity has come back into vogue as seen in signs and slogans of the many activist movements—Black Lives Matter, climate change, unions forming at Amazon and Starbucks, and at anti-war rallies. Even the corporate world is co-opting the word along with similar terminology into their commercials and tag lines. This terminology (union, collective) was always considered anti-capitalist. This was especially noticeable during the COVID pandemic.

Being a musician, in and of itself, is not solidarity. Solidarity is the action that empowers arts and culture workers to strengthen their positions in negotiations with respective employers. The American philosopher Tommie Shelby wrote:

I believe there are five core normative requirements that are jointly sufficient for a robust form of solidarity [identification with the group, special concern, shared values or goals, loyalty, and mutual trust]. By “robust,” I mean a solidarity that is strong enough to move people to collective action, not just mutual sympathy born of recognition of communality or a mere sense of group belonging.

One, need not look any further than the 2023 Writers Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Thousands of workers took to the streets to support their respective union’s contract goals. There was incredible cohesion, even as the strike dragged on for over 100 days. AFM, IATSE, and Teamsters all stood in solidarity with WGA and SAG-AFTRA as they were sidelined with virtually all production halted. Many other allied unions supported the strike. Without this resolve and solidarity, the striking workers would not have achieved their goals.

The successful outcome of the SAG-AFTRA and WGA strikes for their members is only the beginning. The AFM Fair Share for Musicians’ campaign was launched in advance of the AMPTP-AFM film and television negotiations being held in Sherman Oaks, California. The campaign is galvanising not just rank and file musicians, but also solidarity with our sister entertainment unions. IATSE and Teamsters have upcoming contract negotiations with the AMPTP too. Our solidarity to win our fair share in exchange for our labour is paramount. Our solidarity is key to success for all.

What happens in Hollywood, or even in New York or Toronto, may not appear to have any impact on a musician’s day-to-day lived experience. Successes achieved at the bargaining table need to expand beyond merely those directly impacted because, after all, it is a rising tide that lifts all boats.

Copyright protection, individual competition, shifts to digital platforms, changes in how music is consumed, and the lack of resources—venues, rehearsal space, inconsistent income leading to financial precarity—all take a toll on musicians.

There is no doubt that there are varying levels of affluence and influence within the industry. And there are significant challenges that lie ahead. We are living in an increasingly fragmented society—not just a polarized one.

The shared values of artistic expression, collaboration, respect, and a desire for fair compensation unite all musicians. The enemies of solidarity are mistrust, division, a lack of understanding, and breakdown in communications. If we are to achieve collective solutions and support systems that address the very injustices experienced, musicians must stick together. And yes, it is an injustice to not be treated with respect and fairly compensated for your artistic labour!

Seeing solidarity in action shows me what it is: when musicians stand together for a common cause, whether that be for fair pay for fair play, the next symphonic contract, or acting on local issues—we win. As in Andres Dumas’ The Three Musketeers: “One for all, all for one, united we stand divided we fall.” Stand together to achieve our aim—divided we will fail.

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