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How an Imagineer Became a Scab During the ’84 Disneyland Strike [Alt-Disney]

Photo illustration by Federico Medina

As this month marks the 35th anniversary of the great Disneyland Strike of 1984, Alt-Disney remembers the 22-day walkout with a special series. Enjoy! 

When thousands of workers walked off the job on Sept. 25, 1984, for the largest strike in Disneyland’s history, the theme park kept its gates open. Ride operators joined custodians, warehouse workers, ticket sellers and sales clerks on picket lines outside the Happiest Place on Earth, protesting the company’s proposed wage freeze and health-benefit cuts. Disneyland prepped for the strike by training clerical workers on how to operate rides and even considered flying in workers from its Orlando and Tokyo counterparts. 

But when it came to Alice In Wonderland, Disneyland enlisted the industrial designer who actually built the attraction. Bob Kurzweil worked as a ride operator for two years beginning in 1959. He reprised his onetime role on the first day of the strike. A five-union coalition that organized the strike cautioned park-goers who crossed the picket line that scabs couldn’t ensure their safety on rides. 

“I trained 32 hours to drive a monorail; how about the scab?” asked a sign held by a striking worker. 

With Kurzweil, the Mouse House found the perfect media man to undermine the union’s attack. The Los Angeles Times played along and published an article on Kurzweil with the headline “Good Help Hired.” Kurzweil admitted to a reporter that he felt “a little unhappy” about crossing the picket line. He gave up a short commute from Van Nuys to the Walt Disney Imagineering office in Glendale in favor of a drive to Anaheim. 

Picket-crossing park-goers regarded Kurzweil as a nice man. The feeling proved mutual. “It’s nice being outdoors and getting back to meeting the people who use the rides,” Kurzweil told the Times. “After all, the people are what it’s really about.” After two days on the job, though, he did feel anxious to get back to ride-design work; operating rides in Fantasyland left him thirsty at times and with sore feet. 

The strike lasted another 20 days.