Local 153 History

Over a century ago, San Jose musicians worked together to create the San Jose Musical Protective Union. In 1883, these founding musicians held their first official meeting in the Fifth Infantry Band Room, in San Jose’s ten year old City Market Hall. There were thirty nine musicians in the protective union.

The late 1800’s in San Jose provided a growing market for musicians. Most of the work was freelance work. Downtown San Jose had two of the most beautiful and well equipped venues in California, the San Jose Opera House and the California Theatre, as well as a Music Hall. A symphony orchestra gave its first concerts in 1877, and in 1879 was officially organized as the San Jose Symphony the next year. Show producers and theatre owners also hired musicians for concerts, shows, operas, and musical interludes for plays. Musicians also found work in saloons and dance halls. There was no union scale and musicians got what they could personally negotiate.

Most musicians were not members of a union. Protective unions at that time were for mutual benefit support of their own members and membership was restricted to fellow musicians of a particular caliber.

Across the United States, starting in the 1880’s, there was a growing national labor union movement, spearheaded by Samuel Gompers and the American Federation of Labor (AFL). In 1896 musicians from around the United States met to organize a national musicians’ trade union. At this gathering, United States musicians founded and chartered the American Federation of Musicians (AFM). In San Jose, the Musicians Protective Union, Local 153, of the American Federation of Musicians was chartered in 1902. The “Protective” was dropped from the title and in the early 1960’s the name was change to the San Jose Federation of Musicians.