Birth of ICSOM: A Labor Revolution

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“It is unlike any other labor/union relationship that I know of; the musicians’ movement was a labor relations revolution among professionals.”

Labor lawyer I. Philip Sipser (1919-2001), known to ICSOM members as “the Heifetz of negotiators”

The Chicago musicians, organizing from within, had developed a fine-tuned network that became the basis for a national communications system that facilitated the exchange of much information of mutual importance to symphony orchestra musicians all over North America. The survey that the CSO players’ committee distributed to twenty-six orchestras in 1962 became the basis for their next big move. Once they had received all the surveys and compiled the results, the committee members convened a landmark meeting in Chicago on May 12 and 13, 1962, amid cries of “dual unionism” from the AFM. For the first time in their collective history, musicians from North America’s leading orchestras gathered to plan for their future. Twelve orchestras — Boston, Indianapolis, Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Cleveland, New York, Saint Louis, Toronto, and the Metropolitan Opera sent thirty representatives. The delegates elected Joseph Golan and Wayne Barrington, both members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, chair and secretary, respectively. The musicians shared many goals. First, they wanted to address salaries, working conditions, and contract problems cited in both the Saint Louis and Chicago surveys. Additional aims included the launching of a national symphony newsletter, establishment of an industry-wide pension fund, institution of fair audition and probation practices, and the inclusion of attorneys in contract negotiations. The two days of meetings at Roosevelt University in Chicago were a tremendous success.

In early September 1962, the musicians who had attended the historic Chicago conference in May came together in Cleveland with a widening network of orchestra players for the formal ratification of the creation of ICSOM, the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians.

The organization’s founding members were the principal orchestras of Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, Indianapolis, Metropolitan Opera, Minneapolis, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Rochester, Saint Louis, and Toronto.

The Cleveland meeting set the mission statement of the new organization, which would provide the first effective forum for symphony musicians to talk and work together for the benefit of all. Boston Symphony Orchestra Assistant Concertmaster George Zazofsky, the first presidentelect and a dedicated leader in the ICSOM effort, told the Boston Globe several years later, “It was a further objective to direct continuous cooperative efforts within the framework of the American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada, AFL-CIO.”

… the complete text is available in “More Than Meets The Ear