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.

In Our Lifetime

Barak ObamaThe election of Barak Obama was received with an understandable mixture of joy and relief both here and abroad. And even nominally nonpolitical bloggers have joined in the celebration. It seems rather improbable that Obama can fulfill all what is expected of him, but we can still savor the moment. And one of the best summations of what this moment means is provided by Henry Louis Gates Jr. on TheRoots.com, who puts it in a convincing historical context.

Of special interest is his unearthing of a 1958 prediction by Jacob K. Javits, the liberal Republican senator from New York, who said America would have a black black president  by the year 2000. In an article in Esquire, Javits wrote:

What manner of man will this be, this possible Negro Presidential candidate of 2000? Undoubtedly, he will be well-educated. He will be well-traveled and have a keen grasp of his country’s role in the world and its relationships. He will be a dedicated internationalist with working comprehension of the intricacies of foreign aid, technical assistance and reciprocal trade. … Assuredly, though, despite his other characteristics, he will have developed the fortitude to withstand the vicious smear attacks that came his way as he fought to the top in government and politics those in the vanguard may expect to be the targets for scurrilous attacks, as the hate mongers, in the last ditch efforts, spew their verbal and written poison.

Ending the Nightmare Before Christmas

The Nightmare Before ChristmasI usually avoided political statements here, but given the current state of the nation, I really need to speak up and urge my fellow Americans to vote for Barak Obama and Democratic congressional candidates. I have no illusions that Obama is the second coming of FDR, but given the nightmare that the Bush administration has become, his election offers at least the hope of fresh leadership and new ideas.