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Home » Symphonic Services Division » What’s Behind a Winning Campaign?

What’s Behind a Winning Campaign?


by Todd Jelen, AFM Symphonic Service Division Negotiator/Organizer/Educator

Most of us followed the coverage of the musicians of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic and their three-month strike from December to March. They achieved a great win by maintaining their solidarity through tremendous adversity and by employing varying actions and tactics to achieve their goal.

Those on the outside see the final product of a campaign of this type—people on the street, rallies, banners, media coverage—but there is a lot of preparation that goes into a campaign. It simply cannot be created overnight. A campaign must have a bedrock of organizing, planning, and preparation if it is to function and achieve its goal. Behind every successful campaign, there are months of work that are never seen except by those who are organizing and participating in the organizing process.

To understand the context of what happened with the end of the Fort Wayne strike, we need to look back to May 2021, when musicians signed their last agreement. After reaching that agreement, the musicians knew that the next round of negotiations would likely also be contentious, so they started planning. Their Action, Outreach, and Media committees were re-energized and began work toward their next campaign.

Bargaining started in August 2022, and musicians eventually went out on strike in December. They had the advantage of recently going through their last contract campaign and were able to get everything up and running quickly. This ability to refocus an existing infrastructure and additional successful planning and preparation led to their win in March.

Successful campaigns start with engaging our colleagues and building a plan to win. If we, as musicians, aren’t engaged in our struggle, no one else will join us. It is imperative that we have a supermajority of our colleagues committed to working together toward a successful campaign. We confirm everyone’s commitment by holding organizing conversations, one-on-one with our colleagues, and we invite people to become further involved by participating in our campaign committees.

After our committees are built, we need to develop and refine our plan to win. The Action Committee creates diverse actions and looks for events to potentially engage in collective action well in advance. Actions like leafleting, picketing, rallies, and concerts are some ways we can deliver our message without any filter because we are talking directly with the public.

The Outreach Committee researches the employer, the board, who we know, and our community to find common threads of influence. This creates a map of who we want to hold conversations with and hopefully build a relationship so that they might join our campaign in the future when we launch.

The Media Committee with the Orchestra Committee (and/or the Negotiating Committee) builds a narrative arc using the main issues of the campaign to tell our story. These steps are crucial to building a winning campaign because they build our plan, in advance of using it, which allows us to focus on successful execution, rather than creating the plan as we go.

Once we have our plan developed, we start to build power and put that plan to work. We begin to engage in low-level actions internally and look to escalate over time, once we have successfully completed those actions. We use our maps to talk to allies and prospective allies and invite them to join us in our struggle. We start to present our message to the public by broadcasting our actions and rolling out our planned narrative. More and more, as we put the plan into action, what we have created looks like the campaign implemented by the musicians in Fort Wayne and other successful campaigns elsewhere.

Behind every successful campaign there is a lot of work that is never seen by the public or media, but this planning and groundwork is by far the most important step to the success of any campaign. By creating a plan, we are collectively agreeing on a path forward to positive change in our workplaces.

Without preparation and planning, we can only hope that things will work out and we are at the mercy of external forces to help us, rather than taking control of our situation. When we build a campaign from the ground up, and in advance, we are more prepared, practiced, and able to adjust our tactics when needed. When we plan, we win.

To read more about the Fort Wayne Philharmonic Orchestra Committee’s efforts, read the August IM cover story.