Hal Draper

Studio Labor Battles Hollywood
Producers’ Drive for Open Shop

(5 October 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 41, 14 October 1946, p. 7.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

LOS ANGELES, Oct. 5. – Warfare has broken out again on the Hollywood studio front between the fighting trade unions of the Conference of Studio Unions and the producers who are determined to break the back of bona-fide trade unionism in their territory.

While the struggle thus far has not involved such sensationally violent clashes at the studio gates as made the national headlines last year, it is the same fight and over basically the same issue.

This issue is: Will the producers recognize and deal with the legitimate unions which democratically represent the workers in the field, or will they succeed in forcing the CSU out in favor of a so-called “union” which is led by racketeers, which is subservient to the producers and in which the members are throttled into being either peons or scabs?

Real Issues

The capitalist newspapers are calling the present dispute a “jurisdictional strike” and seeking to discredit it with that cry, just as they did last year. The truth is, however, that it is neither jurisdictional at bottom, nor is it a strike. It is a lockout by the producers.

Every worker who goes to the movies ought to know what the fat boys who doctor up his entertainment think of labor. Here is the inside story of the present fight:

The union which the producers like very much indeed is the International Association of Theatrical and Stage Employees (IA, for short), which was once the creature of the notorious racketeers Bioff and Browne and is now the racket of their successors, Walsh and Brewer. The IA claims jurisdiction over everybody except actors and musicians. This is the organization which provided the scabs in the Hollywood strike last year. Both it and the CSU are affiliated with the AFL.

Earlier this year the executive council of the AFL made a definite assignment of jurisdiction as between the two outfits, in order to bring peace to the studio labor field. Such peace was not part of the producers’ plans, however, since it meant that the CSU would be able to consolidate itself.

Taking advantage of an alleged ambiguity in the original decision involving set erection work, the producers advanced an interpretation which would strip the CSU carpenters of over 100 jobs in favor of the IA. The CSU appealed back to the AFL executive, which came through on August 16 with a supplementary clarification in favor of the carpenters. The producers, backed by Walsh’s IA, refused to recognize this decision. This is the immediate cause of the present fight.

Men Locked Out

Neither the carpenters nor the CSU went on strike. Instead the carpenters announced that their men would not work on any set job which was not divided according to the AFL award. As a result the studios began firing CSU carpenters for refusing to do particular jobs, and also firing painters for refusing to paint jobs performed by IA men in violation of the AFL decision.

By September 25 all CSU carpenters and painters in seven major studios had been locked out for standing by the AFL award. On the next day the CSU, led by Herb Sorrell, began picketing. IT WAS OBVIOUS THAT THE PRODUCERS HAD TRIED TO PROVOKE THE MEN INTO A STRIKE AND INSTEAD HAD BROUGHT ABOUT A CLEAR CASE OF LOCKOUT.

Meanwhile, Walsh is thumbing his nose at the AFL council. Last Thursday he openly threatened to walk out and organize the entire amusement field against the AFL, unless he (and the producers) got their way.

This is the so-called “jurisdictional” situation that will confront the AFL convention in Chicago this coming week. It is simply a question of whether William Green will back down before Walsh or put teeth into his decision.

Some sidelights:

Hottest fight broke out in front of MGM studio in Culver City, where a sweeping injunction had been issued to prevent mass picketing. (MGM is the heart of the producers’ anti-labor front, vanguard of the union busters in the industry.) CSU got around it by getting a permit for a parade in front of the gate. Last Tuesday the parade (mainly ex-GIs) stopped its lines before the south gate of the studio and Sheriff Biscailuz’s storm troopers, called deputy sheriffs, went to work with clubs and guns in a wild free-for-all.

Actors Cross Lines

The Screen Actors Guild held a meeting last Wednesday and sidestepped as usual. But the report is that a motion to go through the picket lines was made by Wrad Bond, who usually plays Western villains and this time remained in character. This scab motion was supported by Frank Sinatra, who has been getting a “liberal” reputation for sentimental speeches against race hatred. Class-conscious bobby-soxers, take note.

Head of the producers’ association now is Eric Johnston, former president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce who a while back was being touted as a “progressive capitalist” by the Stalinists. Anyone who was surprised when Johnston came back from a trip to Russia with praise for the Stalin regime there should be hep now: in Russia they treat labor on the MGM model.

The “Communist” bogy is raised all over the place, of course, whenever the studio unions start fighting. This correspondent doesn’t think the CSU is Stalinist-dominated but that wouldn’t make any difference as far as the issues are concerned.

What the members of the CSU really want in the studios is an industrial union set-up, and a child could see how necessary it is; but the AFL turned it down. Too many internationals with members in the studios would never give up their per-capita.

While studio labor is not a large field or a basic industry, the situation is important locally as the spearhead of the open-shop drive in the city; and it is important nationally as the arena where it will be decided whether the biggest propaganda factory in the world, Hollywood, recognize that labor has a place. Here’s where you’ll find out what goes on in the heads of the men who make your Saturday night pap.

Last updated on 16 July 2020