[This was my weekly column for GlobalNews.ca. – AC]
James C. Petrillo was apoplectically mad. As head of the American Federation of Musicians, the largest musicians union in the country, he was sick and tired of seeing members not being paid what they were owed when it came to record sales.
The people who made records were not getting their due from the major record labels. All the money from record sales was going to the record labels and not to the musicians. Years of talk produced nothing so Petrillo announced that his union was going on strike.
At exactly midnight, July 31, 1942, union musicians could no longer make any kind of commercial recordings for any commercial record company. The supply of new music was to be strangled, if not cut off entirely.
There were exemptions, of course. Musicians could continue to perform on live radio shows. V-Discs, special records made for the troops serving overseas in World War II, could still be made. And, of course, non-union musicians weren’t bound by the strike.
The strike lasted until Nov. 11, 1944, when the major record labels finally gave in and a new royalty deal was signed, ending the longest strike in entertainment history. Profits would thereafter be distributed to musicians, not just the executives at the labels. There were some lingering issues, but all the bit points of contention were solved. Meanwhile, though, there were some interesting unintended consequences.