by Tina Morrison, AFM IEB Member and President Local 105 (Spokane, WA)
I’ve been learning about apprentice programs in the building trades. These are union worker funded programs that provide wages through on-the-job training paired with classes and certifications. Each trade has its own idiosyncrasies, but a common factor is that working union members pay into the apprentice program from which they benefited, creating a long-running cycle to sustain their trades.
Musician education often includes mentoring, usually through private teachers and professors. The focus is primarily on music making, not necessarily musical work, which requires an income component. Some of our larger music schools, institutions, and conservatories may provide music business classes, but there are few “earn as you learn” opportunities. The primary difference with the trades, of course, is job availability and the belief that certain aspects of becoming a professional musician can’t be taught—the talent mystique.
There’s been an educational push towards science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Drawing lines between the dots, this implies that the jobs of the future will be in technology. The theory is that educational investment should go into ensuring that businesses will have workers and that students receiving an education should expect to find a job. The primary issue is the disparity between jobs and jobs that provide a living wage, which is where unions make the difference.
Business has done well at convincing our government bodies and their constituents that public funding should be used to provide them with workers educated to benefit their businesses, allowing them to profit from our collective investment. Seriously, if you start turning over rocks, you’ll be surprised at the levels of corporate welfare. Unions provide the only meaningful counterbalance, but our potential for success relies on our numbers and organized participation of our members.
In the building trades, the apprentices grow to become journeymen. Investing in the future of their trade is just part of their ecosystem. We have similar paths available to us in our AFM contracts, but only if we make use of them. We can strengthen our own peculiar ecosystem by building solidarity in our workplaces and requiring the use of union contracts.
I strongly encourage musicians in every segment of our industry to become educated about our contracts that cover a wide variety of musical work. If you are a teacher, expand your scope to include the business of music—live and recorded—along with technique and interpretation. If you are successful in your community, find opportunities to pass along your knowledge and experience. The responsibility of “each one teach one” should become ingrained and help us build our collective strength.
We should also consider getting more involved in the push from STEM to STEAM, which adds the arts as a critical part of our education systems. Beyond learning how to be efficient worker bees, we need to reinforce empathy and compassion, as well as creative thought, as integral to our collective well-being. We need allies to help push back against the business concepts of “return on investment” and “revenue generation” being applied to our nonprofit music organizations.
If you believe in the concepts of individual responsibility and accountability, then consider getting more involved with your local and the union movement. Through collective action, we can have a meaningful voice in creating sustainable business models that allow musicians appropriate compensation for live performance and develop additional income streams. Musical product has increasing value but musicians will only receive their fair share if we are successful in counterbalancing the entities that profit from our work. This will take organizing and solidarity. Thank you for your work!
On another note, Women’s Marches are being organized for January 19 in communities throughout the US and Canada. The AFL-CIO MLK Civil and Human Rights Conference will be held in Washington, DC, January 18-21. Also consider participating in MLK, Jr., activities in your own city. Labor and civil rights: two movements—one goal!