FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

On the Prospects for a SAG Strike

by DAVID MACARAY

Despite their tough talk and ominous saber-rattling, everyone expects the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) to eventually reach a settlement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), rather than go on strike, as they’ve threatened.

In fact, everyone is saying that there’s virtually zero chance of a SAG walkout.  Why?  Because, according to conventional wisdom, Hollywood is suffering from serious “strike fatigue” (the recent writers strike lasted a debilitating 100 days) and because the nation’s economy is in no condition to heal itself, much less absorb a major industry shutdown.

Also, there’s the follow-the-leader or “inertia” argument.  It’s irrational and glib, but the advice SAG has been getting goes something like this:  The writers have settled; the directors have settled; AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) has settled; and now, even though you didn’t get everything you wanted, it’s your turn to step up to the plate and take what the AMPTP has offered.

Simple as it sounds, it’s a little more complicated than that.  What SAG is asking for in these contract negotiations is not only vitally important for building a foundation for future bargains, it’s eminently reasonable.  While actors work in the same industry as writers and directors, the requirements and needs of each guild don’t necessarily coincide.

Unlike writers and directors (or radio personalities), actors make their living off their images.  Getting paid for the studios’ use of those images makes perfectly good sense; allowing the studios to use those images at their discretion, free of charge, without some structured form of compensation, makes no sense at all.

The Actors also realize that, despite their denials, the Producers have the extra money to pony up.  The fact that the AMPTP is pretending to be nervous, claiming that it’s too early to know where this so-called New Media market is headed, and is peddling doom and gloom predictions for the entertainment industry, is almost insulting.

Just because management (in any industry, under any conditions) can always be expected to downplay its profitability during contract negotiations doesn’t make the AMPTP’s poor-mouthing any less annoying.  Global demand for American movies is staggering.  In the last 5 years, going back to 2003, Hollywood has earned more money in foreign markets than it had in the previous 70 years combined, and those markets are continuing to grow exponentially.  The entertainment future is gloriously bright.

But SAG does have a slight problem, one which—because it’s an internal, parliamentary issue—hasn’t drawn much attention.  According to SAG bylaws, a full 75 percent of the membership is required to give strike authorization.  That’s an extraordinary mandate, especially considering that most unions require only a simple majority (50% plus one) for a strike vote.

Getting three-fourths approval for anything is a formidable task . . . from deciding on where to eat dinner to what color carpet to put in the living room.  Think about it.  Most U.S. presidential elections fall into the 55-45 percent range; a 60-40 percent victory (e.g., Reagan’s 61-39 defeat of Mondale) is considered a landslide.

Accordingly, for Congress to pass a bill, a simple majority is required, and for the Senate to approve a treaty, a two-thirds vote is needed.  The only time a three-fourths mandate is required is when they do something like add an amendment to the Constitution.

A strike vote is easy to obtain, almost automatic in fact, when the membership sees it, more or less, as a “symbolic” gesture, as a means of provoking the company, of scaring them into sweetening their offer.  When a strike vote is seen as symbolic, it’s not uncommon to get a 90 percent mandate.  But when a vote is perceived as being the prelude to an actual strike (which it will likely appear to SAG members), it’s a whole other deal.

Indeed, it’s that very dynamic that causes management to hope that the union negotiating team takes an inferior final offer back to the membership and has them vote on it, rather than have the guts to call a strike on their own.  Politically, from the union’s point of view, it’s safer to let old-fashioned democracy prevail and place the decision in the hands of membership, even at the risk of them ratifying a patently inferior contract, than to call a strike on their own.

In any event, it’s going to be very interesting to see how SAG negotiations proceed from this point.  The lines have been drawn.  The Alliance is showing no signs of being willing to come off what they’ve called their “last, best and final” offer, and SAG leadership, so far at least, is sticking to its guns, promising to take this thing all the way.

Ultimately, whether it’s a strike vote or an actual contract presented to them for ratification (with or without the union’s recommendation) it will be up to SAG membership to decide their own fate.

DAVID MACARAY, a Los Angeles playwright and writer, was a former labor union rep.  He can be reached at dmacaray@earthlink.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

January 23, 2017
John Wight
Trump’s Inauguration: Hail Caesar!
Mark Schuller
So What am I Doing Here? Reflections on the Inauguration Day Protests
Patrick Cockburn
The Rise of Trump and Isis Have More in Common Than You Might Think
Binoy Kampmark
Ignored Ironies: Women, Protest and Donald Trump
Gregory Barrett
Flag, Cap and Screen: Hollywood’s Propaganda Machine
Gareth Porter
US Intervention in Syria? Not Under Trump
L. Ali Khan
Trump’s Holy War against Islam
Gary Leupp
An Al-Qaeda Attack in Mali:  Just Another Ripple of the Endless, Bogus “War on Terror”
Norman Pollack
America: Banana Republic? Far Worse
Bob Fitrakis - Harvey Wasserman
We Mourn, But We March!
Kim Nicolini
Trump Dump: One Woman March and Personal Shit as Political
William Hawes
We Are on Our Own Now
Martin Billheimer
Last Tango in Moscow
Colin Todhunter
Development and India: Why GM Mustard Really Matters
Mel Gurtov
Trump’s America—and Ours
David Mattson
Fog of Science II: Apples, Oranges and Grizzly Bear Numbers
Clancy Sigal
Who’s Up for This Long War?
Weekend Edition
January 20, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Divide and Rule: Class, Hate, and the 2016 Election
Andrew Levine
When Was America Great?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: This Ain’t a Dream No More, It’s the Real Thing
Yoav Litvin
Making Israel Greater Again: Justice for Palestinians in the Age of Trump
Linda Pentz Gunter
Nuclear Fiddling While the Planet Burns
Ruth Fowler
Standing With Standing Rock: Of Pipelines and Protests
David Green
Why Trump Won: the 50 Percenters Have Spoken
Dave Lindorff
Imagining a Sanders Presidency Beginning on Jan. 20
Pete Dolack
Eight People Own as Much as Half the World
Roger Harris
Too Many People in the World: Names Named
Steve Horn
Under Tillerson, Exxon Maintained Ties with Saudi Arabia, Despite Dismal Human Rights Record
John Berger
The Nature of Mass Demonstrations
Stephen Zielinski
It’s the End of the World as We Know It
David Swanson
Six Things We Should Do Better As Everything Gets Worse
Alci Rengifo
Trump Rex: Ancient Rome’s Shadow Over the Oval Office
Brian Cloughley
What Money Can Buy: the Quiet British-Israeli Scandal
Mel Gurtov
Donald Trump’s Lies And Team Trump’s Headaches
Kent Paterson
Mexico’s Great Winter of Discontent
Norman Solomon
Trump, the Democrats and the Logan Act
David Macaray
Attention, Feminists
Yves Engler
Demanding More From Our Media
James A Haught
Religious Madness in Ulster
Dean Baker
The Economics of the Affordable Care Act
Patrick Bond
Tripping Up Trumpism Through Global Boycott Divestment Sanctions
Robert Fisk
How a Trump Presidency Could Have Been Avoided
Robert Fantina
Trump: What Changes and What Remains the Same
David Rosen
Globalization vs. Empire: Can Trump Contain the Growing Split?
Elliot Sperber
Dystopia
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail