BALTIMORE — “The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra produced this entire concert, everybody volunteered their time,” percussionist Brian Prechtl told 2,000 people at a free public concert at New Shiloh Baptist Church Sept. 14. The turnout showed the widespread support Local 40-543 of the American Federation of Musicians has won since management unilaterally cancelled the summer season and locked them out June 16, demanding they agree to 20% in wage and benefit cuts.
The musicians approved a one-year contract Sept. 23. “Our battles are not over,” Mary Plaine, the local’s secretary-treasurer, said in a message to supporters. “Maybe we will have some time to catch our breaths.”
“Being on the picket line has been kind of tough, but we know we’re fighting for something worthwhile, so we’re going to make sure we stand our ground for what’s right,” said Prechtl, a co-chair of the union negotiating committee. In the evening’s final selection, a gospel makeover of Handel’s “Messiah,” Baltimore Symphony conductor Marin Alsop and the orchestra jammed with the rhythm section of the historic Black church, along with the Carter Legacy Singers and members of Baltimore’s choral community.
The trade unionists kept making music throughout the lockout. In addition to picketing several days a week at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, they performed three summer subway rush-hour concerts. In August they played classical music of Bach, Handel and Mozart for motorists on Charles Street near the entrance to the JFX Expressway and performed free concerts on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
They have also performed and joined in solidarity with other workers’ actions and social protests.
James Harris, Socialist Workers Party candidate to delegate for U.S. Congress in Washington, D.C., and campaign supporters brought solidarity to the church concert. “It falls to the working class to defend culture and those that provide it for us,” said Harris. “The capitalist economic crisis threatens the lives of all workers as well as our humanity. The working class must unite behind the musicians and defend our class interests.”
The SWP candidate walked the musicians’ picket line and joined them Sept. 6 at the strike picket of UNITE HERE Local 7 workers, who are fighting for their first union contract at the Marriott Baltimore Waterfront hotel.