More From Life: The Battle of Warner Bros.

The posting by Google of digitized images from the vaults of Life magazine has led to a number of bloggers (including myself) to mine it for all sorts of wonderful images. I thought I would add to the feeding frenzy with a series of postings, starting with some pictures from the fabled Battle of Warner Bros., a key event in Hollywood labor history, which had ramifications far beyond movie industry.

The Battle of Warner Bros. 01
“Warner Bros. strike—Tear gas bombing out picketers.”

The Battle of Warner Bros. 02.
“Warner Bros. police spraying a fire hose at a resisting [picketer].”
Both photos (by Bob Landry) were taken on Monday, October 8, 1945, known as The Battle of Warner Bros. On that date, according to Wikipedia (which identifies the event as Black Friday and mistakenly identifies the day as Friday, October 5, 1945):

a six month strike by the set decorators represented by the Conference of Studio Unions (CSU) boiled over into a bloody riot at the gates of Warner Brothers’ studios in Burbank, California. The strikes helped the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947 and led to the eventual break up of the CSU and reorganization of the then rival International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employes (IATSE) leadership.

The CSU was established in 1941 by film industry unions that had supported the Screen Cartoonists Guild (SCG) during their strike against Disney, which the IA (then under the waning control of the Chicago mob) officially opposed. As Larry Ceplair and Steven Englund wrote in The Inquisition in Hollywood: Politics in the Film Community, 1930-1960:

Without allies, and with the strike dragging on, [CSU head Herb] Sorrell decided to single out one studio—Warner Brothers—and, by putting maximum pressure on it, to break a link in the studios’ chain of resistance. On October 5 a mass picket was thrown up around the studio. Three days later the studio’s police and fire departments, equipped with fire hoses and tear gas, and a vigilante squad of one thousand IATSE thugs, led by IA officials and equipped with chains, rubber hoses, blackjacks, and metal cables, attacked the CSU picket lines. In the melee that followed, many injuries were sustained, but the strikers held their lines. (220)

Roy Brewer Sorrell, the charismatic leader of the studio local of the Painters and Paperhangers Union, had earlier taken the SCG under his wing and enabled it to organize the animation industry in the early 1940s. The Guild did not participate in the CSU strikes, but did lend support. The IA, under Roy Brewer (shown here in an October 1946 Life photo by Peter Stackpole), working with the studios eventually prevailed, leading to the downfall of the CSU and to Sorrell’s departure from the labor movement. With Sorrell gone, the Cartoonists Guild left the umbrella of the Painters and Paperhangers, which gave Brewer, working in conjunction with Walt Disney, an opening to set up a rival union, IA Local 839 (today’s Animation Guild), which eventually supplanted the SCG in 1951. Brewer, who ran the Hollywood Blacklist, promptly extended the blacklist to the animation industry, and UPA in particular (leaving to the departure of John Hubley, among others).

The postwar labor wars also set the stage for the future political career of Ronald Reagan, who as President of the Screen Actors Guild, threw his support to the anti-CSU forces.

Author: Harvey Deneroff

Harvey Deneroff is a Los Angeles-based independent animation and film scholar specializing in labor history. He formerly taught at the Savannah College of Art and Design and was editor of Animation Magazine, Animation World Magazine, and Graiffit (published by ASIFA-Hollywood). He is the founder and past president of the Society for Animation Studies.

1 thought on “More From Life: The Battle of Warner Bros.”

  1. Lots of changes since 1945 when IA took over. Now the Illustrators and Matte Artists union (formerly IA 790) has been “absorbed” by the Art Directors Guild (IA 8oo). Illustrators compete with their Animator brethren (IA 839) for work on “hybrid films”, and depend on their own union brethren (Art Director bosses) for work.

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