Tim Cavanaugh on Labor Strikes by Classical Musicians


The future of longhair music is, yet again, threatened by a rising crescendo of labor disputes with musicians. Tim Cavanaugh writes that ensembles all over the country are fighting over managers' efforts rein in, and in some cases reduce, salary and benefits for players. Musical performance raises some fundamental questions about labor economics, but the current round of strikes doesn't get to the real problem. In one sense, classical musicians are a model of legitimate organizing power: They are superhumanly skilled and can actually shut down production just by not showing up. On the other hand, even superb skills are only as good as the demand for them, and classical players face a growing problem: Their performances cost more than they make. How do orchestras get out of a rigid structure based on generous compensation, minimum staffing levels and a business model that runs at a loss even when it is successful?