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Guitar Center Workers Rock the Shop Floor

3:08 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Guitar Center employees struggle to continue their work. Employees say they are passionate about the work but simply can’t afford the job because of its minimum-wage, commission-based pay. (Wikipedia Commons)

Originally published at In These Times

If your 9-to-5 job revolves around your life’s passion, the satisfaction of being surrounded by what you love can offset the daily grind. But such passion is often in short supply in retail work, which is generally defined by the quintessential boring sales job. At Guitar Center, however, one of the country’s largest instrument chains, workers’ love for music, combined with their disdain for The Man, is driving a valiant campaign for a union.

In several cities, Guitar Center employees have been organizing since late 2012 with the support of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). In May, they scored their first victory at the flagship store in the West Village, with 57 employees voting to unionize. Then another Guitar Center, in Chicago, unionized in August. As labor organizers reach out to other cities, though, the management, controlled by private equity giant Bain Capital, is reportedly hoping to undercut the union before it recruits more workers at the other more than 200 stores nationwide.

Since Bain took over in 2007, workers say, labor conditions on the sales floor have eroded under a pay structure based on commissions. According to employees, because base pay has started as low as $7.25 an hour, often without paid vacation or sick days, these commissions constitute a major portion of workers’ income. But this commission on sales kicks in only after reaching a certain minimum threshold—a system known as “fading.” Another major frustration for workers has been a lack of autonomy; they say non-sales duties that the Bain management has heaped on them detract from cultivating sales clients. Moreover, a relatively flat wage structure means workers who work their way up the management chain do not receive comparable pay increases.

The workplace atmosphere has allegedly grown more tense since workers started organizing. In May, Manhattan Guitar Center employee Anim Arnold told Labor Press that management was targeting individual workers as they were gearing up for the groundbreaking union vote.

“They’ve definitely pulled people aside and said they don’t think unions are a good idea,” he said. “They say, ‘Oh, unions don’t have anything to offer. It’s not the 1920s. We’re not children in coal mines. We’re fine.’” Read the rest of this entry →

L.A. Riots Redux, In Stereo

8:04 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Cross-posted from CultureStrike

The impact of the Los Angeles riots still resonates twenty years on. Here’s an audio take on the experience of the chaos–all the pain, the fear, the search for healing amid relentless destruction, and the hope for redemption rising from the ashes.

The community has changed since then–socially, culturally and economically. But the divides across race and nationality, and between the people and the state, still stratify the landscape. A generation later, popular uprisings and unrest are again exploding around the world, again raising questions of conflict, justice and peace. Maybe listening to echoes of the past can clarify our vision for tomorrow’s struggles.

PLAY PODCAST (Sorry, FDL doesn’t seem to accept Podomatic’s embed code)

DJ Sloe Poke and Chicharron bring you “ Uprising LA: 20 Years Later Mix,” a musical mash-up of artists and activists then and now:

On April 29, 1992 Los Angeles went up in flames. After 4 White Police Officers were found not guilty after brutality beating Black motorist Rodney King. The beating was, for once, caught on video.

At the time, LA hip hop was not only banging, it was also speaking about police abuse in the inner city.

This mix is a reflection of the music of the time, commentary by activists and artists now and then. Enjoy and please comment and share.


Learn more at or listen to the Soundstrike Podcast.

To learn more about the Los Angeles riots and the artistic response, see Javier Gonzalez’s essay, “Roots of LA’s 1992 Uprising” at The Sound Strike. Also check out the Los Angeles Times’ special coverage and a retrospective story on Anna Deveare Smith’s show, “Twilight: Los Angeles 1992.”

In Growing Labor Struggle, Jazz Artists Harmonize Music and Justice

2:42 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Justice for Jazz Artist musicians rally outside the Blue Note Jazz Club in New York City for a pension plan and a minimum wage. (Photo Enid Farber/Courtesy of Justice for Jazz Artists)

Cross-posted from In These Times.

NEW YORK—Jazz is both America’s classical art form and the classic music of struggle. You can hear that duality, and see it, every night on the dimly lit bandstands of New York City. But for the musicians, the toughest part often comes after the gig, when they realize the cash they took home isn’t enough to make rent. Or maybe 30 years down the line, at the age when other workers retire, but they have to keep playing shows to keep eating.

But now the unrest over inequity on Wall Street is starting to resonate in the heady air of Manhattan jazz clubs. The Justice for Jazz Artists campaign, run by the New York musicians’ union Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians, is rallying for decent wages and pensions for artists, along with a greater voice in how their music is heard and sold.

Many jazz artists, both bandleaders and side musicians, hustle from gig to gig, often at the mercy of club owners who have little or no obligation to provide basic benefits like medical or unemployment insurance. With New York’s exorbitant cost of living, a single bout of illness or rent hike could tip musicians and their families into poverty.

Hoping to make it easier for the city’s hardest-working musicians to make a real living, Justice for Jazz Artists (a coalition of musicians and activists with Local 802) has worked to pressure some of the city’s major clubs, like the Village Vanguard and the Iridium, to provide musicians with access to pensions later in life.

Their other long-term demands include a basic minimum pay scale, which could be adjusted according to the size of a club’s business; firmer protections for musicians’ right to earn income for live recordings; and an arbitration process to resolve labor disputes. Read the rest of this entry →