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



 


 

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
July 27, 2015
Susan Babbitt
Thawing Relations: Cuba’s Deeper (More Challenging) Significance
Howard Lisnoff
Bernie Sanders: Savior or Seducer of the Anti-War Left?
Martha Rosenberg
Big Pharma’s Profiteers: You Want Us to Pay What for These Meds?
John Halle
On Berniebots and Hillary Hacks, Dean Screams, Swiftboating and Smears
Stephen Lendman
Cleveland Police Attack Black Activists
Patrick Cockburn
Only Iraq’s Clerics Can Defeat ISIS
Ralph Nader
Sending a ‘Citizens Summons’ to Members of Congress
Clancy Sigal
Scratch That Itch: Hillary and The Donald
Colin Todhunter
Working Class War Fodder
Gareth Porter
Obama’s Version of Iran Nuke Deal: a Second False Narrative
Joshua Sperber
What is a President? The CEO of Capitalism
Zoe Konstantopoulou
The Politics of Coercion in Greece
Vacy Vlanza
Without BDS, Palestine is Alone
Laura Finley
Adjunct Professors and Worker’s Rights
Jon Langford
Mekons Tour Diary, Episode Three, Where We Thrill Everyone by Playing Like “Utter Bloody Garbage”
Weekend Edition
July 24-26, 2015
Mike Whitney
Picked Out a Coffin Yet? Take Ibuprofen and Die
Henry Giroux
America’s New Brutalism: the Death of Sandra Bland
Rob Urie
Capitalism, Engineered Dependencies and the Eurozone
Michael Lanigan
Lynn’s Story: an Irish Woman in Search of an Abortion
Paul Street
Deleting Crimes at the New York Times: Airbrushing History at the Paper of Record
ISMAEL HOSSEIN-ZADEH
Making Sense of the Iran Nuclear Deal: Geopolitical Implications
Andrew Levine
After the Iran Deal: Israel is Down But Far From Out
Uri Avnery
Sheldon’s Stooges: Netanyahu and the King of Vegas
David Swanson
George Clooney Paid by War Profiteers
ANDRE VLTCHEK
They Say Paraguay is in Africa: Mosaic of Horror
Horace G. Campbell
Obama in Kenya: Will He Cater to the Barons or the People?
Michael Welton
Surviving Together: Canadian Public Tradition Under Threat
Rev. William Alberts
American Imperialism’s Military Chaplains
Yorgos Mitralias
Black Days: August 4th,1914 Germany and July 13th, 2015 Greece
Jeffrey R. Wilson
“It Started Like a Guilty Thing”: the Beginning of Hamlet and the Beginning of Modern Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
Star Whores: John McCain, the Apache and the Battle to Save Mt. Graham
Pepe Escobar
The Eurasian Big Bang: How China and Russia Are Running Rings Around Washington
Charles Larson
The USA as a Failed State: Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me”
Robert Fantina
Israel and “Self-Defense”
John W. Whitehead
The American Nightmare: the Tyranny of the Criminal Justice System
Leonidas Vatikiotis
Rupture With the EU: a Return to the Cave Age or a New Golden Age for Greece?
Murray Dobbin
Harper is Finally Right: the Canadian Election is About Security Versus Risk
Brian Cloughley
Meet General Joseph Dunford: a Real Threat to World Peace
Manuel García, Jr.
The Trump Surge and the American Psyche
Pete Dolack
We May Have Already Committed Ourselves to 6-Meter Sea-Level Rise
Michael Barker
The Challenge to Labour and Tory Extremism
Eric Draitser
US Targets Venezuela Using Border Dispute as Pretext
Robert Hunziker
America’s Purple Politics
Ishmael Bishop
Decentering Whiteness in the Wake of a North Carolina Tragedy
Chad Nelson
Something About Carly: Fiorina and the Professional Political Class