Sunday, my wife and I took the kids to the Magic Castle, a supper club in Hollywood where you have a fine meal and then see several magic shows. It’s one of our favorite places to go, so fortunately we have a friend who’s a member, as it’s a private club. During our brunch, my friend (an amateur magician, scholar of magical history, and my undergrad mentor) told us the following titbit about magical history and the role unions played.
In the early-mid 20th century, the big performance halls became unionized by the stagehands and orchestras. All productions were required to have an orchestra, even if no music was performed. So magicians would have to cover the cost of an orchestra that just sat there without playing a single note. And they would be required to use the local stagehands, which they couldn’t allow because those stagehands wouldn’t know how to properly handle their often delicate magical apparatuses (apparati?).
So magicians were forced out of the big theaters, and into smaller theaters and school gymnasiums. Ironically, this actually made them more accessible to small town folk, because it brought top magicians into their town venues that otherwise would have been passed over. But it limited the earnings of the magicians themselves.
There’s no doubt unions can be beneficial–if it’s your job they’re looking out for.