Archive for the ‘moving pictures’ Category

The War for Warner Brothers
(Click for larger image)

The studio strike of 1945 had it all. Corrupt union bosses, movie moguls, gangsters and trade unionists.

The first thing to remember was that in 1945 there were two unions in Hollywood. One was the IATSE, led by President George E. Browne. The IATSE was straight out of Chicago and was literally affiliated with Frank Nitto (the successor to the Al Capone crime syndicate). Browne was sentenced to eight years for federal racketeering in 1941, but not before signing contracts with most of the major studios. The IATSE promised low wages and no strikes in exchange for lots of illegal money. Richard Walsh took over for Browne.

Some members launched a rebellion against the IATSE in 1939 and formed four smaller unions.

The other big studio union was the CSU, the Confederation of Studio Unions. The CSU, unlike the IATSE was a democratic union with no links to the mob. The CSU President was named Herb Sorrell. Sorrell came out of the Disney strike of 1941.

In 1943 a group of set directors broke away from the IATSE to a form a small union and voted to affiliate themselves with the CSU. The producers stalled the contract until the IATSE came in and claimed juridiction over the set directors. An arbitrator was appointed and ruled in favor of the CSU. The producers continued to refuse to recognize or bargain with the set directors, and in effect, this started the studio strike of 1945.

On March 12, 1945, the strike began.

9,000 CSU workers walked off the job while IATSE president Richard Walsh ordered his 16,000 members to cross their picket lines and go back to work. The studio heads lined up with IATSE. The Writer’s Guild, Cartoonists and CIO voted to honor CSU pickets, the Screen Actor’s Guild, the AF of L and Teamsters to support IATSE.

Notice how the Writer’s Guild supported the strike, while the Screen Actor’s didn’t. Then remember who the targets of the HUAC witchhunt were just a few years later in 1947.

Despite threats of having their cards revoked, thousands of IATSE workers refused to cross picket lines. A meeting of IATSE rebellious workers was broken up, and the leaders were suspended from the union.

The strike was poorly timed. The studios had 130 films on the shelves – a nine month supply.

The major studios augmented their security by hiring goons ( all granted LAPD licenses to carry guns) and actually put moonlighting LAPD and Burbank police on the payroll. The LAPD also had a unit called the Red Squad, who’s duty was to kick in the doors and harass suspected communists, union organizers and other undesirables.

Disney, Monogram, and some independents bargained with CSU Local 1421. Columbia, RKO, Universal, Fox and Warner Bros. did not and were affected most severely, with MGM and Paramount right behind. After several months, movie productions begun to shut down. But the workers and the CSU began to run out of money around the same time.

CSU President, Herb Sorrell, decided to make a stand at Warner Bros. On October 5th, some 300 strikers gather at Warner Bros. main gate at 4 A.M. on a typically warm day during this pivotal month. Shortly thereafter, strikebreakers, Chicago goons and county police attacked. They were armed with chains, bolts, hammers, six inch pipes, brass knuckles, wooden mallets and battery cables. The county sheriffs marched two and three abreast, steel-helmeted and reinforced with tear gas masks, and night sticks, Some carried 30-30 Garrand rifles and two were weighted down with an arsenal of tear gas bombs. The Warner Bros. studio police lobbed canisters of tear-gas from the roofs of the buildings at the entrance.

SU pickets had their own “white-painted air-raid warden helmets” that shone eerily in the predawn gloom. These helmets and weapons added to the perception that this strike had become a pitched battle, a war. As Sorrell recalled it, “First, they drove through the picket lines at a high rate of speed, several cars. I think we took four people to the hospital. The fire hoses were dragged out; they turned them on the people’s feet and just swept them right out from under… they threw tear gas bombs… there were women knocked down… It was a slaughter.”

(Click for larger image)

By the end of the day, some 300 police and sheriffs had been called to the scene and over 40 casualties were reported. The picketers returned the following Monday with an injunction barring the police from interfering with the strike while Warner retaliated with its own injunction limiting the number of pickets at the gate. Violence continued all week.

The CSU was breaking, but the bad publicity from this event forced the studios to make a tentative agreement.

The agreement was a farce. IATSE members who supported the strike were locked out. IATSE scabs were pushed out of the CSU jobs they were filling, but the studio held onto them.

On September 23, 1946, the studios reassigned all the CSU members from construction supervisors, foremen and maintenance men to work as journeymen carpenters on “hot set”, a position many of these men hadn’t worked in many years and a violation of their job descriptions and cause for a union grievance.

These men understandably protested and refused at which point they were given preprepared paychecks for their time and effectively sent home and subsequently locked out. Naturally, the pickets went back up, and the CSU was forced to assume the crushing burden of another strike.

The Screen Actor’s Guild turned their backs on the CSU, and after another 13 month strike, the CSU had been crushed for all time.

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