For over a month members of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra (FWSO) in Texas, USA have been on strike. This happened after a year of ongoing negotiations between the musicians and management. The final straw was the insistence by bosses that the musicians accept pay reductions of between 2.5-7% following salary cuts in 2010 of over 13%.

An initial reaction to the strike even from those normally sympathetic to workers taking such action could be “Why should I support a bunch of well-educated and highly skilled people who only cater to the tastes of the ‘cultured’ middle classes anyway?” It’s true orchestral musicians aren’t suffering the same levels of deprivation as some sections of the working population, but in reality the former are hardly living it up large either. One anonymous member of the FWSO explained her circumstances this way:

“The proposed cuts of 2016 for the FWSO may seem inconsequential by itself. Someone really can live on $50,000/year in North Texas in 2017, right? Perhaps they can. These days my salary covers all of my financial obligations, but I LIVE on what I make outside the symphony. So, perhaps that question is just too simplistic. When the Fort Worth household median income in 2014 was $59,530, my FWSO salary was almost $5,000 below that. A 2017 salary of $50,000 only widens the gap.

How do these proposed additional cuts affect me? How do I, a hard-working individual who financially helps my children and parents, manage to get ahead on $50,000/year? I live and work day-to-day. I am proud of what I have accomplished, but my story is not an unusual one. I am not alone with the financial realities I have faced. And I would make the same decisions if I had it to do it over again. In the end though, I guess people just have different views on how much $5,000 really is to a person.” (Quoted at 18/9/16)

The FWSO musicians have made great effort to reach out to the wider community. Prior to the strike itself, they would hold ‘meet and greet’ sessions with the audience and also leafletted them to explain their positions. Since the strike they have given music for free on picket lines and when fundraising for the strike. There have been rallies in support of the strikers and encouragingly they have been joined on the picket lines by members of the youth orchestra,other musicians and members of the community.

The difficulties being encountered by the FWSO musicians are in no way unique to them, their peers elsewhere have also encountered cuts, concert cancellations and even orchestra closures. For example members of the San Antonio Symphony Orchestra had measures inflicted upon them that amounted to a 10% cut in order to service the deficit they were experiencing. Musicians also struck in Detroit in 2010 and there were lockouts in Atlanta and Minnesota in 2012 and 2014. Since this particular strike broke out, musicians in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia followed suit by walking out on similar grounds to those in Fort Worth.

The election of the President is only weeks away. The choice of mainstream candidates is between a crony of Wall Street bankers or a racist, misogynistic, xenophobic millionaire. With those options the bosses can feel secure that things will go their way overall. In such a climate, working people in the broadest sense of the term, will have to look for whatever successes we can find wherever we can find them. The FWSO musician’s possible future victory could be one small glimmer of hope and inspiration for everyone who only has their labour to sell and therefore isn’t part of the small minority in power. As progressive classical music educator Jose Abreu has argued in general, “Music has to be recognized as an agent of social development, in the highest sense because it transmits the highest values – solidarity, harmony, mutual compassion. And it has the ability to unite an entire community, and to express sublime feelings”