Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! We only shake you down once a year, but when we do we really mean it. It costs a lot to keep the site afloat, and our growing audience, well over TWO million unique viewers a month, eats up a lot of bandwidth — and bandwidth isn’t free. We aren’t supported by corporate donors, advertisers or big foundations. We survive solely on your support.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Writers’ Strike Continues

by DAVID MACARAY

The Writers Guild of America (WGA) is already into the twelfth week of its strike against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), They’ve been out since November 5. That’s one hellaciously long time to be out of work, even for a cause you believe in, and even when you know your old job will be waiting for you.

Ask anyone who’s ever hit the bricks, and they’ll tell you that a strike, particularly a long one, can be a life-altering experience. In truth, no matter how critical the issues that precipitated the walkout or how committed the union membership that did the walking, anything beyond 5 or 6 weeks is enough to put you in a monumental funk. If the Writers hold out for another month or two, things could get very complicated.

In no way is this meant to second-guess the WGA’s agenda or tactics. The WGA and its membership know what they are doing. Just as no one on the outside can look into a marriage and make an accurate assessment of its merits or viability, no one on the outside can observe the workings of a labor union and fully appreciate the mindset that led to calling a strike.

To assess the factors that contribute to a strike, you have to be on the inside. Without that unique perspective, you really have nothing meaningful to say about it. Which is why it’s so silly to hear all these third-parties and “informed observers” weighing in with their sage advice about what should or shouldn’t happen next.

Some good news for the WGA: It was announced on January 22 that the two sides are getting back together for “informal talks,” after the AMPTP had abruptly broken off negotiations several weeks ago. Auspiciously, these talks will occur against the backdrop of the Directors Guild of America (DGA) tentatively accepting a 3-year contract from the AMPTP, even though its contract wasn’t due to expire until June 30.

Almost certainly, there will be pressure on the WGA to use the Directors’ deal as impetus for a settlement of their own. Among the provisions included in the new contract, the AMPTP gave the DGA a larger share of New Media markets, which was a key demand of the WGA, and a critical sticking point in their negotiations.

Specifically, the DGA was given jurisdiction (with certain exemptions) over material that is produced specifically for the Internet, along with a 100 percent increase in residuals for downloads of TV shows, and an 80 percent increase for downloads of movies. Progress was also made in the area of “ad-supported” content, such as prime-time TV shows that are streamed on TV websites, and there was “sunset language” included which permits the parties to reassess New Media markets once the contract expires.

Again, it’s too early to know how good the Directors’ contract really is. Improvements were made to several areas of their existing agreement, and there were no rollbacks, which are definite pluses. But even assuming the WGA gets a similar offer from the AMPTP, it’s hard to say if it will be enough to end the strike. After all, the WGA’s needs and concerns aren’t necessarily the same as the DGA’s (whose 13,400 members include directors, assistant directors and production managers). While similar in some ways, they are different Guilds, with different agendas.

In any event, there’s little doubt that the AMPTP will attempt to use the DGA’s contract as a means of stampeding the Writers toward a settlement. The Producers know that news of the agreement will cause some of the rank-and-file to become antsy, and are aware that Hollywood has a history of “pattern bargaining” (where the first contract out of the blocks becomes a template for those that follow).

But there’s a curious phenomenon that occurs during long strikes. Put simply: The longer the membership stays out, the greater the risk of the situation metastasizing from “strike” into “siege.” Once a certain point is reached, a small but hardcore segment of the membership tends to slip into what can be called a “siege mentality.” They take the view that because they’ve already been out so long, suffered so many hardships and made so many sacrifices, only a “Cadillac” contract will be enough to bring them back.

Settling for terms that fall significantly short of those included in the union’s original agenda will be interpreted as capitulation. It will elicit rage. It will be taken as evidence that the whole goddamn endeavor was a waste of time and money. The only thing that will get this militant minority to vote to return to work is for management to give them pretty much everything they asked for, which, of course, ain’t going to happen.

It’s a tricky situation for the union, one dripping with irony. When going out on strike, the union leadership always counts on the full commitment of the membership. Frankly, they hope that the rank-and-file hangs tough and doesn’t cave. So when a vocal, hardcore segment of that membership publicly challenges the leadership’s own level of “commitment” by questioning its willingness to continue to fight for what it set out to achieve, it can get a bit dicey.

Coincidentally, one of the shortest and one of the longest strikes in U.S. history both occurred in Southern California. The shortest one took place in 1987 and involved the very same Directors Guild of America. The DGA’s strike (the first and only strike in their 63-year history) lasted a grand total of 15 minutes, literally. According to reports, the union negotiators had barely left the room before they were called back, and the parties reached an agreement.

And one of the longest strikes in history was the one called by the LA Newspaper Guild against the old Herald Examiner newspaper, the former daily rival of the Los Angeles Times. The union walked out in December, 1967, and didn’t settle until March of 1977. They were out just a few months short of 10 years. Talk about a “siege mentality.”

It’s impossible, really, to wrap your mind around a 10-year strike. There’s simply no perspective in which to place it, no point of reference. What does it mean to be on strike for 10 years?? Obviously, everybody has found new jobs, and new union officers have been elected. But were the members still receiving strike benefits? Were people still picketing? Were union and company officials meeting regularly . . . for a whole decade? Needless to say, the strike badly crippled both the workforce and the newspaper, neither of which fully recovered.

The key thing to remember about strikes, even ones that end badly, is that they are labor’s only available weapon. They’re the only bullet in the chamber. While boycotts and public relations campaigns have been known to work, their successes are largely hit-or-miss; plus, they are ventures that require organizational skills and funding. Strikes are the more attractive tactic. Besides being user-friendly, they hit the company immediately where it hurts most-in the pocketbook.

Another thing to remember about strikes: If they weren’t labor’s most effective weapon, management wouldn’t dread them so much.

DAVID MACARAY, a Los Angeles playwright and writer, was president and chief contract negotiator of the Assn. of Western Pulp and Paper Workers, Local 672, from 1989 to 2000. He can be reached at dmacaray@earthlink.net

 

 

 

 

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is “Nightshift: 270 Factory Stories.” He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

September 28, 2016
Eric Draitser
Stop Trump! Stop Clinton!! Stop the Madness (and Let Me Get Off)!
Ted Rall
The Thrilla at Hofstra: How Trump Won the Debate
Robert Fisk
Cliché and Banality at the Debates: Trump and Clinton on the Middle East
Patrick Cockburn
Cracks in the Kingdom: Saudi Arabia Rocked by Financial Strains
Lowell Flanders
Donald Trump, Islamophobia and Immigrants
Shane Burley
Defining the Alt Right and the New American Fascism
Jan Oberg
Ukraine as the Border of NATO Expansion
Ramzy Baroud
Ban Ki-Moon’s Legacy in Palestine: Failure in Words and Deeds
David Swanson
How We Could End the Permanent War State
Sam Husseini
Debate Night’s Biggest Lie Was Told by Lester Holt
Laura Carlsen
Ayotzinapa’s Message to the World: Organize!
Binoy Kampmark
The Triumph of Momentum: Re-Electing Jeremy Corbyn
David Macaray
When the Saints Go Marching In
Seth Oelbaum
All Black Lives Will Never Matter for Clinton and Trump
Adam Parsons
Standing in Solidarity for a Humanity Without Borders
Cesar Chelala
The Trump Bubble
September 27, 2016
Louisa Willcox
The Tribal Fight for Nature: From the Grizzly to the Black Snake of the Dakota Pipeline
Paul Street
The Roots are in the System: Charlotte and Beyond
Jeffrey St. Clair
Idiot Winds at Hofstra: Notes on the Not-So-Great Debate
Mark Harris
Clinton, Trump, and the Death of Idealism
Mike Whitney
Putin Ups the Ante: Ceasefire Sabotage Triggers Major Offensive in Aleppo
Anthony DiMaggio
The Debates as Democratic Façade: Voter “Rationality” in American Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Punishing the Punished: the Torments of Chelsea Manning
Paul Buhle
Why “Snowden” is Important (or How Kafka Foresaw the Juggernaut State)
Jack Rasmus
Hillary’s Ghosts
Brian Cloughley
Billions Down the Afghan Drain
Lawrence Davidson
True Believers and the U.S. Election
Matt Peppe
Taking a Knee: Resisting Enforced Patriotism
James McEnteer
Eugene, Oregon and the Rising Cost of Cool
Norman Pollack
The Great Debate: Proto-Fascism vs. the Real Thing
Michael Winship
The Tracks of John Boehner’s Tears
John Steppling
Fear Level Trump
Lawrence Wittner
Where Is That Wasteful Government Spending?
James Russell
Beyond Debate: Interview Styles of the Rich and Famous
September 26, 2016
Diana Johnstone
The Hillary Clinton Presidency has Already Begun as Lame Ducks Promote Her War
Gary Leupp
Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Against Russia
Dave Lindorff
Parking While Black: When Police Shoot as First Resort
Robert Crawford
The Political Rhetoric of Perpetual War
Howard Lisnoff
The Case of One Homeless Person
Michael Howard
The New York Times Endorses Hillary, Scorns the World
Russell Mokhiber
Wells Fargo and the Library of Congress’ National Book Festival
Chad Nelson
The Crime of Going Vegan: the Latest Attack on Angela Davis
Colin Todhunter
A System of Food Production for Human Need, Not Corporate Greed
Brian Cloughley
The United States Wants to Put Russia in a Corner
Guillermo R. Gil
The Clevenger Effect: Exposing Racism in Pro Sports
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail