Scabs, Strikes and Funny Women


People fault Hollywood’s unions (“guilds”) for being too soft, too glitzy, and too privileged to be considered “real” unions in the way the UAW, Teamsters, and Longshoremen are “real.” While there are some obvious differences between industrial unions and Hollywood guilds (for example, at any point in time, roughly 85-percent of Screen Actors Guild members are out of work, which seems crazy), that criticism is a bit misleading.

If we take traditional left-wing politics as evidence of a trade union’s commitment, then we need look no further than the Writers Guild of America (WGA). The WGA is about as left-wing as any outfit you’ll find. Granted, given the post-Reagan tilt to the right, that may not be quite as true today as it was, say, in the 1960s and ‘70s, but it’s still close. And if you compare the WGA’s lefty sensibilities with those of “real” unions, they look like the second-coming of Gus Hall.

Which brings us to comedian and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres. I’ve always been a fan of Ellen’s. Although, unlike most reviewers, I didn’t think her latest Oscar hosting performance was worth a flying gee-whiz (too much goofing around and too much schmoozing with the audience), she’s always made me laugh and always seemed eminently likeable.

In 2007, the WGA went on strike. Ellen, a WGA member, was criticized for crossing the picket line. Normally, when you do that, it automatically makes you a scab. But in the case of Hollywood’s convoluted guild system—Writers Guild, Directors Guild of America (DGA), Screen Actors Guild (SAG)— these things tend not to be as cut-and-dried as they are with those “real” unions.

Briefly, there were some weird factors in ’07. For one, Ellen was/is also a member of AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists), which supposedly had a no-strike clause barring her from recognizing WGA pickets. I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s what I read. For another, it was the WGA East (the New York branch) that criticized her. The Hollywood branch of the WGA remained conspicuously silent.

And for another, while the WGA East singled out Ellen, they didn’t go after three other obvious targets—Oprah, Rachel Ray, and Dr. Phil—none of whom, unlike Ellen, went on a one-day “sympathy strike” with the writers before (reluctantly we like to think) crossing that picket line. Moreover, by all accounts, the writers didn’t hold a grudge. Apparently, they understood her dilemma.

Again, I’m not making excuses for union members who scab. We all know what scabbing means, and we all know the punishment a scab deserves (and used to receive back in the good old days, before the courts changed all that). But Hollywood is different. It shouldn’t be different, but it is. And when you belong to multiple unions, as Ellen DeGeneres does, it’s even more different.

But here’s an account of something that disappointed us way more than the Ellen episode did. In the 1980s I was one of the union negotiators who called a strike at an industrial site. After setting up pickets at four gates and the railroad track, we contacted the Teamsters and asked them to honor our picket lines. They responded with a questionnaire. Here’s a copy of it:

“Name and address of union:
Name and address of company:
Nature of the company’s business:
Is the employer represented by or a member of an employer association?
Is the company a division or subsidiary of another company?
Is a strike now in progress?
Is there a picket line?
Location of picket line if not the same as above company address:
Reason for strike or picket line:
Does your union have an existing or recently expired contract with this employer?
If so, give the expiration date:
Is your union the bargaining representative of the employees involved, pursuant to NLRB certification?
Has your union ever been decertified as the bargaining representative of the employees involved?
Is a petition for an election pending with the NLRB?
Has an unfair labor practice been filed with NLRB?
Are any other unions involved?
Does your union have strike sanction from your International union and/or Intermediate Body?”

This surprised us. It was more complicated than applying for a home loan. Our strike lasted 57 days, but we never heard back from the Teamies. The truth of the matter is that ever since Taft-Hartley (1947), union solidarity has been under attack. One union can’t legally support the strike of another, which totally undermines any hope of concerted action. Which is exactly what Corporate America wants.

David Macaray, an LA playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor,” 2nd edition), is a former union rep. 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

Weekend Edition
October 9-11, 2015
David Price – Roberto J. González
The Use and Abuse of Culture (and Children): The Human Terrain System’s Rationalization of Pedophilia in Afghanistan
Mike Whitney
Putin’s “Endgame” in Syria
Jason Hribal
The Tilikum Effect and the Downfall of SeaWorld
Paul Street
Hope in Abandonment: Cuba, Detroit, and Earth-Scientific Socialism
Gary Leupp
The Six Most Disastrous Interventions of the 21st Century
Andrew Levine
In Syria, Obama is Playing a Losing Game
Louis Proyect
The End of Academic Freedom in America: the Case of Steven Salaita
Rob Urie
Democrats, Neoliberalism and the TPP
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
The Bully Recalibrates: U.S. Signals Policy Shift in Syria
Brian Cloughley
Hospital Slaughter and the US/NATO Propaganda Machine
John Walsh
For Vietnam: Artemisinin From China, Agent Orange From America
John Wight
No Moral High Ground for the West on Syria
Robert Fantina
Canadian Universities vs. Israeli Apartheid
Conn Hallinan
Portugal: Europe’s Left Batting 1000
John Feffer
Mouths Wide Shut: Obama’s War on Whistleblowers
Paul Craig Roberts
The Impulsiveness of US Power
Ron Jacobs
The Murderer as American Hero
Alex Nunns
“A Movement Looking for a Home”: the Meaning of Jeremy Corbyn
Philippe Marlière
Class Struggle at Air France
Binoy Kampmark
Waiting in Vain for Moderation: Syria, Russia and Washington’s Problem
Paul Edwards
Empire of Disaster
Xanthe Hall
Nuclear Madness: NATO’s WMD ‘Sharing’ Must End
Margaret Knapke
These Salvadoran Women Went to Prison for Suffering Miscarriages
Uri Avnery
Abbas: the Leader Without Glory
Halima Hatimy
#BlackLivesMatter: Black Liberation or Black Liberal Distraction?
Michael Brenner
Kissinger Revisited
Cesar Chelala
The Perverse Rise of Killer Robots
Halyna Mokrushyna
On Ukraine’s ‘Incorrect’ Past
Jason Cone
Even Wars Have Rules: a Fact Sheet on the Bombing of Kunduz Hospital
Walter Brasch
Mass Murders are Good for Business
William Hadfield
Sophistry Rising: the Refugee Debate in Germany
Christopher Brauchli
Why the NRA Profits From Mass Shootings
Hadi Kobaysi
How The US Uses (Takfiri) Extremists
Pete Dolack
There is Still Time to Defeat the Trans-Pacific Partnership
Marc Norton
The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution
Andre Vltchek
Stop Millions of Western Immigrants!
David Rosen
If Donald Dump Was President
Dave Lindorff
America’s Latest War Crime
Ann Garrison
Sankarist Spirit Resurges in Burkina Faso
Franklin Lamb
Official Investigation Needed After Afghan Hospital Bombing
Linn Washington Jr.
Wrongs In Wine-Land
Ronald Bleier
Am I Drinking Enough Water? Sneezing’s A Clue
Charles R. Larson
Prelude to the Spanish Civil War: Eduard Mendoza’s “An Englishman in Madrid”
October 08, 2015
Michael Horton
Why is the US Aiding and Enabling Saudi Arabia’s Genocidal War in Yemen?
Ben Debney
Guns, Trump and Mental Illness