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Weavers of Dreams, Unite!Actors' Unionism in Early Twentieth-Century America$
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Sean P. Holmes

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780252037481

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: April 2017

DOI: 10.5406/illinois/9780252037481.001.0001

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All the World’s a Stage!

All the World’s a Stage!

The Actors’ Strike of 1919

(p.58) Chapter Three All the World’s a Stage!
Weavers of Dreams, Unite!

Sean P. Holmes

University of Illinois Press

This chapter examines the actors' strike of 1919. It explains how a group of workers who had affiliated with the American Federation of Labor only as a last resort, and who were not well versed in the tactics of militant trade unionism, were able to force their employers to bargain with them collectively. Pointing out that labor–management relations in the theater industry, as in many other service industries, were complicated by the proximity of the paying customer, it demonstrates that the strikers were able to use their commodity status to negate the power differential that underpinned their relationship with the managerial moguls. It describes how they took their struggle out onto the streets of New York City, reinventing it as an entertainment spectacle and using their skills as professional performers to highlight their grievances. By locating the strike in the sphere of consumption, the strikers attracted the favorable attention and material support of American theatergoers and denied the managers an audience for their reconstituted shows. Once they had obtained additional backing from their fellow trade unionists, their victory was assured.

Keywords:   actors' strike, American Federation of Labor, trade unionism, labor relations, theater industry

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