1911-1920

Overview

The Union moved into its third decade growing in strength as musicians viewed it an increasingly effective way of improving their pay and conditions. Some disruption to some musical activity was caused by musicians going to war, but in many instances their places in orchestras were taken by women musicians who had previously been widely excluded from the profession. This was met with some opposition from members who openly questioned both the ability of the women and what would happen when men came back from the war.

The War, however, had little effect on membership and the increased number of members allowed Williams a much stronger negotiating hand when the issue of merging with the Orchestral Association reappeared on the agenda towards the end of the decade. The membership increase was partly down to the increased popularity of film and the creation of jobs for musicians in cinema orchestras.

Issues

The role of women in the profession joined the perennial concerns about pay and conditions and the competition from both military and police bands. The fear of jobs being lost to foreigners remained a concern, but one which diminished during the War.

The Union In Numbers

Membership during the period rose from 6180 in 1911 to 19910 members in 1920.

Key Dates

1911

Negotiations between Williams and Oswald Stoll (of the Stoll Group of Music Halls) about pay and conditions – Stoll’s proposal of 27-hour week for musicians in the provinces rejected as “a joke.”

AMU launches legal action against the NFPM claiming libel in one of their ‘Chronicle.’

Executive Committee rejects the notion of forming any sort of amalgamated body with the NFPM or the Orchestral Association, though relations with the latter are better, and it is suggested that were a proposal to come from them it would be considered.

Williams visits the USA to finalise an agreement with the American Federation of Musicians.

The second Askwith Award extends the 30/- award to musicians working in the Provinces. Drummers are also afforded equal pay with the rest of the orchestra.

Copyright Act (1911) extends copyright to sound recordings, allowing producers to limit uses and performances of them without recompense. This extended the possibility of musicians earning from their performances on recordings, though this did not happen quickly.

1912

The musicians killed in the Titanic disaster are commemorated in a memorial photograph published by the Union, with funds raised from over 80000 sales going towards the ‘Titanic’ Convalescent Home. Members of the Union also take part in a successful memorial concert at the Royal Albert Hall. Monies which had previously been held in a Convalescent Homes Fund was transferred to a Titanic Convalescent Fund, which paid out over £700 to families of the musicians.

A short lived, choristers section forms within the Union.

1913

A Musical Directors’ Association forms within the AMU. One of its stated aims is to ensure that MDs received twice the minimum payment offered to “the men.”

The Trade Union Act (1913) meant unions had to set up Political Funds in order to be able to contribute to Trades Councils and political parties. However, members had to vote on the use of such funds and individual members were able to opt out. In a ballot held in December, AMU members voted by 1661 votes to 688 to form a Political Fund. The AMU registered the rules for its Political Fund immediately, but no party affiliation was agreed.

1914

The outbreak of the First World War meant many male musicians were replaced by women. In 1916, the Union’s Journal reflectsconcerns about what would happen when they returned, also containing derisive contributions on the abilities of female musicians.

The War also brings about the Aliens Restriction Act, which was primarily aimed at limiting the immigration of nationals of enemy countries.

Orchestral Association attempts to extend its influence beyond London, initially naming itself the National Orchestral Association. This further antagonises the AMU with whom the OA had been having intermittent discussions about merger since the origins of the 2 organisations.


As a response to the Copyright Act, the Performing Right Society is established to represent writers and publishers of music.

1915

A dark blue tunic and trousers with aluminium braid with a smart cap (left) becomes the official uniform of the AMU.

An agreement is reached with the National Orchestral Association forming a joint committee of the two organisations, with a view to future affiliation of the two bodies.

1918

Williams proposes “amalgamation” of some form with VAF, but this is rejected by their Chairman, Fred Russell, who is only prepared to go as far as the formation of a Permanent Joint Committee for matters of communal interest.

At the end of World War, the market for orchestral music increased, the beginning of a boom in musicians’ employment which lasted until 1930.

The issue of merger with the NOA is raised again, after conflict between the 2 organisations at the London Hippodrome – where the AMU try to have the owners (Moss Empires) replace NOA members with AMU ones.

Members of the National Orchestral Association change both its name and status – forming as a trade union called the National Orchestral Union of Professional Musicians. Fort Greenwood becomes its General Secretary.

1920

Having already formed a joint working committee to prevent employers playing the two organisations off against each other, the AMU and NOUPM agree the basis of a merger which their members will vote on. The Musicians’ Report and Journal reported that “in truth, the event’s significance was primarily symbolic, for the two unions had long ceased to represent separate and distinct groups of musicians, though there had been recent complaints that the NOUPM was ‘a brigade of foreigners.’ (November 1920) The AMU had by far the more members, but the Orchestral Association owned valuable property at 13-14 Archer Street and had a stronger balance sheet.

A new Aliens Order means that all employers who wished to use foreign labour had to receive approval from the Ministry of Labour. The AMU met with the Ministry to press their case for this being use to exclude foreign musicians (who they viewed as taking jobs from British musicians).