Swearing Stagehands

Stagehands are known for their multitude of talents, not the least of which is a talent for swearing. Some oaths have been uttered that would make a sailor blush.  There is one oath in particular that is occasionally spoken by a select few that goes like this:

“…as a condition of my membership in Local No. 205 and in the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employes (sic), Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts of the United States, Its Territories and Canada, (I) do solemnly pledge myself to accept and abide by the provisions of the Constitution and Bylaws of this Local and of the Alliance.”

Most of us have repeated these words and have heard them repeated at meetings when we gain a new brother or sister. The question is: what were we committing ourselves to?

We must turn our hymnals to ARTICLE TWO Section 1 of the Constitution and Bylaws of IATSE Local 205 to gain insight into the meaning of the words we were required to speak.

Here we find that we are swearing to dedicate ourselves “to the principles of trade unionism.” This means that we are committed to organizing workers who practice our craft. In the case of Local 205, the crafts covered by our charter are stagehands and projectionists. The important distinction here is that we are swearing to dedicate ourselves to trade unionism, not industrial unionism. Industrial unionism’s purpose is to cast a wide net and organize everyone in a particular industry regardless of their craft.

Next, we are swearing to abide by the intention to improve the wages and hours of work, to increase job security, and to better working conditions. Improving wages and working conditions is self explanatory, but what is this bit about “job security?”

In a word, job security means seniority. That so called dirty word that some would have you believe is illegal. As members of Local 205, we have sworn to promote the idea that we are secure in our jobs and will not lose them.

The last few principles we have sworn to abide by should be expounded upon in a later article, but bear mentioning. We have all sworn to advance our economic, social, and cultural interests, and establish peaceful and harmonious relations between members and employers. We swear to increase the stability of the industry, to assure full employment, and to promote and support democracy and free trade unionism.

There it is again. We are sworn to promote and support free trade unionism. This is a concept so important that it is stated at the beginning and repeated. We raised our right hand and committed ourselves to furthering the cause of the skilled workers in our craft. Our purpose is not just to take in individuals in the hope that they will become skilled. It is to seek out the skilled workers in our craft and invite them to stand up in front of us and swear like any good stagehand should.

– Keith Harris