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Hollywood's Labor Troubles: The 1945 Warner Brothers Studio Strike

Author: The VivliaTime: 2024-02-10 19:20:01

Table of Contents

Introduction to the 1945 Warner Brothers Studio Strike

In October 1945, a violent confrontation erupted between striking workers and security personnel outside the Warner Brothers studio in Burbank, California. This clash, nicknamed "Hollywood Bloody Friday," marked a dramatic episode in the contentious history of labor relations in the American film industry.

The strikers were part of the Conference of Studio Unions (CSU), which had initiated a major walkout in March 1945 seeking better pay and working conditions. CSU represented painters, carpenters, set decorators and other below-the-line crew members. Their main rival was the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), an established union aligned with studio management.

Overview of Key Events Leading Up to October 1945 Strike

Tensions between CSU and IATSE had been simmering for years despite a brief truce in October 1945. That month, violence erupted again outside Warner Brothers studio as CSU strikers clashed with replacement workers, security guards and police. The chaotic scene, involving makeshift weapons and tear gas, resulted in multiple injuries and arrests. This polarizing strike was a key moment in a complex period of labor unrest in Hollywood. It set in motion dynamics that led to Taft-Hartley legislation restricting unions, the decline of the CSU, and lingering labor-management divides in the entertainment business.

Background on Major Hollywood Labor Unions

To understand the 1945 strike and its aftermath, it is important to examine the history of unions in Hollywood.

Two major groups vied for power - the established IATSE union and the upstart CSU formed in 1941. Their rivalry fueled much of the labor tensions of this era.

IATSE - A Controversial Early Hollywood Union

IATSE has represented behind-the-scenes entertainment workers since the late 19th century. It grew rapidly in Hollywood's studio system era, but became associated with corruption and mob influence in the 1930s under Willie Bioff. This sparked reform efforts, but also distrust of IATSE among many film industry workers. By the early 1940s, IATSE had regained dominance with strong studio backing.

Rise of the Conference of Studio Unions

Seeking an alternative, more democratic union, CSU formed in 1941 under Herb Sorrell. It drew members from IATSE and organized strikes for improved pay and conditions. The studios and IATSE branded CSU as communist-influenced, setting the stage for years of ideological clashes.

Mounting Tensions and Violence in 1945

Against the backdrop of simmering IATSE-CSU tensions, events came to a head in 1945 when CSU staged a major strike for set decorators followed by further conflicts and a polarizing studio lockout.

This period witnessed alarming levels of violence between strikers and opponents and caused severe disruptions in film production.

CSU Launches Large-Scale Strike in March 1945

On March 12, 1945, CSU initiated a massive strike seeking representation for set decorators, better conditions for their 10,500 members, and recognition from the studios. The walkout halted 60% of production at major studios and often turned violent as CSU picketers clashed with IATSE members and police. Actors were divided on crossing picket lines while studios faced major losses.

Fleeting Truce Reached in October 1945

Under pressure, CSU, IATSE and the studios reached an uneasy truce on October 29, 1945. It recognized CSU representation for set decorators, while IATSE maintained some jurisdiction. This temporary deal soon collapsed, giving way to renewed labor-management tensions.

Clashes Restart and Studios Lock Out CSU in 1946

CSU struck again in July 1946, extracting some concessions like a pay raise. However, in September, studios and IATSE locked out CSU workers, banning them from studios amidst violent protests and arrests. The lockout crippled CSU while allowing studios and IATSE to gain the upper hand.

Aftermath and Legacy of Turbulent Era

The polarization surrounding the strikes and lockout had enduring political and labor repercussions that weakened unions and exacerbated Hollywood's labor-management divide.

Decline of CSU and Passage of Taft-Hartley Act

Persisting through 1947, the lockout enabled studios to terminate many CSU supporters. It destroyed CSU as a viable rival for IATSE. The turmoil also fueled passage of the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947 which restricted union activities and tactics.

Remaining Labor Issues in the Film Industry

IATSE regained dominance in subsequent decades but Hollywood continued to be characterized by strained management-labor relations, strikes and challenges like runaway production and globalization. Recent near-strikes highlight the persistence of these tensions between Hollywood's business interests and its workforce.


The explosive events outside Warner Brothers studio in October 1945 marked a pivotal episode in Hollywood labor history. The violence and unrest reflected and furthered the stark divide between film industry management and unions like the CSU.

The decline of the CSU in the late 1940s ended a key chapter in Hollywood's labor relations. However, conflict between the studios' commercial interests and workers’ rights persists in various forms to the present day.


Q: What caused the 1945 strike at Warner Brothers Studios?
A: Frustrated by poor treatment from the studios and rival union IATSE, the Conference of Studio Unions initiated a major strike in March 1945 seeking better pay and working conditions.

Q: How did the studios respond to the CSU strike?
A: The studios worked with IATSE to undermine CSU, using violent strikebreakers and alleging the union had communist ties.

Q: What was the outcome of the 1945 strike?
A: A tentative deal was reached in October 1945 recognizing CSU as bargaining agent for set decorators, but clashes soon resumed.

Q: How did the Taft-Hartley Act impact Hollywood unions?
A: The Act restricted union power after the turbulent CSU strikes, weakening the labor movement.

Q: What ongoing labor issues affect Hollywood?
A: Disputes over pay, residuals, working conditions, and AI protections have sparked strikes up to the present day.

Q: How did the 1945 strike impact film production?
A: With 60% of production halted at the height of the strike, major projects were delayed and daily operations disrupted.

Q: What violent tactics were used during the 1945 strike?
A: Clashes featured guns, tear gas, beatings, and property damage, with police supporting the studios.

Q: How did the 1946 lockout escalate tensions?
A: Thousands of CSU members were barred from studios, sparking increased turmoil and arrests.

Q: How did other Hollywood unions respond?
A: Actors like Bette Davis refused to cross picket lines in solidarity, but SAG as a whole opposed CSU.

Q: What was the Conference of Studio Unions?
A: Formed in 1941, CSU was a liberal union that broke from the mob-linked IATSE to represent below-the-line workers.