In a powerful display of solidarity, musicians from the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra joined their counterparts in the Detroit Symphony Orchestra for a moving performance of Antonio Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” and Johannes Brahms’ “Symphony No. 2 in D Major” at a packed Christ Church Cranbrook last Sunday.
Whether the goal of the concert was to demonstrate the DSO as an institution of the first order or appeal for support from Detroit-area residents for their ongoing strike, the event was a success.
The strike has now entered its fourth week since the musicians walked out Oct. 4 following management’s decision to impose a 33 percent reduction in base salary – from about $104,650 to $70,200 – for current members and a 42 percent cut – down to $63,000 – for starting players, as well as slash health care benefits and pensions.
In a statement distributed at the event, DSO members described the strike as an action deliberately provoked by management in order to force many of the most talented musicians to move on or retire that they may be replaced with cheaper, less experienced players.
According to the statement, management wanted it downsized from a world-class orchestra to a second-class one.
The struggle being waged by the DSO musicians is a significant political event for Detroit and the country. Once again, Detroit will serve as the test case, this time providing the model for similar attacks on the arts around the country.
The assault on the living standards of the DSO musicians has exposed the unflattering reality that under capitalism even world-class musicians are laborers to be exploited as the bourgeoisie see fit. At the same time, it clearly demonstrates the shared interests of all workers – whether they be musicians, teachers, or auto workers – against their common enemy – a capitalist class that places the accumulation of private wealth above all other considerations.
The Detroit Symphony was started in 1914, at a time when the American bourgeoisie consisted largely of industrial capitalists who were not only engaged in building up the productive forces, but also champions of culture who took pride in setting up institutions which benefited society as a whole.
Today the American bourgeoisie is mostly made up of financial speculators and swindlers who amass their vast fortunes by closing down and destroying the industrial productive forces. Consequently, these social parasites view any cultural institution that is not actively engaged in augmenting their wealth as an affront.
Predictably, the media have played a disgusting role in the affair. By appealing to popular frustration of ordinary workers under the ravages of the economic crisis, their goal is to direct emerging anger away from the capitalist con men on Wall Street and toward sections of the traditional middle class as supposed highly paid and privileged.
One can hear echoes of the media’s past campaigns against auto workers with their lavish “gold-plated benefits” or against the complacent, well-paid public school teachers.
A tremendous level of ignorance is displayed in such an appraisal of the DSO musicians. A review of their biographies would reveal individuals of extraordinary talent, many of whom had decided to dedicate their lives to music from an early age and have studied under some of the world’s top instructors. Moreover, to play at the level of the DSO requires instruments of the finest quality that can cost a player tens of thousands, up to a million dollars.
The argument that a world-class musician does not deserve to make $150,000, yet hedge fund managers and bank CEOs are entitled to bonuses in the billions of dollars, is absurd and contemptible.
Students and workers should stand by the DSO musicians who represent only the most culturally advanced wing of their class. Their interests lay not in tearing down members of middle class to their level, but in raising the living standards of all sections of society at the expense of the idle super rich.