How the Oscars began as a tool for union-avoidance

Everyone’s heard of the Academy Awards, but few know the anti-union origins of its sponsor, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The Academy was founded in 1927 by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio boss Louis Mayer to prevent unionization in the film industry. As an invitation-only professional organization, it was meant to be a more prestigious alternative to unionization. With separate branches for producers, actors, writers, directors, and technicians, it would settle workplace disputes and eliminate the need for unions and strikes – while remaining controlled by producers.

From 1927 to 1933, the Academy functioned as a company union. In competition with the Screen Actors Guild and other unions, it  developed a standard contract covering terms and conditions of work.

Hollywood unionized anyway in 1933, and company-controlled unions were outlawed in 1935. But the Academy continues on as a way to promote the film industry. To this day, its membership is self-selecting, and secret.

SEE ALSO: THE UNION OSCARS: The Screen Actors Guild film and TV awards are chosen by union members, and honor the collective.

This article was reposted from Northwest Labor Press.

Photo: Craig Piersma/Flickr (Creative Commons)


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