FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Scabs, Strikes and Funny Women

by DAVID MACARAY

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?
NATURE OF THE DISPUTE:
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

More articles by:
July 27, 2016
Richard Moser
The Party’s Over
John Eskow
The Loneliness of the American Leftist
Arun Gupta
Bernie Sanders’ Political Revolution Splinters Apart
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Humiliation Game: Notes on the Democratic Convention
M. G. Piety
Smoke and Mirrors in Philadelphia
Guillermo R. Gil
A Metaphoric Short Circuit: On Michelle Obama’s Speech at the DNC
David Macaray
Interns Are Exploited and Discriminated Against
Norman Pollack
Sanders, Our Tony Blair: A Defamation of Socialism
Claire Rater, Carol Spiegel and Jim Goodman
Consumers Can Stop the Overuse of Antibiotics on Factory Farms
Guy D. Nave
Make America Great Again?
Sam Husseini
Why Sarah Silverman is a Comedienne
Dave Lindorff
No Crooked Sociopaths in the White House
Dan Bacher
The Hired Gun: Jerry Brown Snags Bruce Babbitt as New Point Man For Delta Tunnels
Peter Lee
Trumputin! And the DNC Leak(s)
Ann Garrison
Rwanda, the Clinton Dynasty, and the Case of Dr. Léopold Munyakazi
Brett Warnke
Storm Clouds Over Philly
Chris Zinda
Snakes of Deseret
July 26, 2016
Andrew Levine
Pillory Hillary Now
Kshama Sawant
A Call to Action: Walk Out from the Democratic National Convention!
Russell Mokhiber
The Rabble Rise Together Against Bernie, Barney, Elizabeth and Hillary
Jeffrey St. Clair
Don’t Cry For Me, DNC: Notes From the Democratic Convention
Angie Beeman
Why Doesn’t Middle America Trust Hillary? She Thinks She’s Better Than Us and We Know It
Paul Street
An Update on the Hate…
Fran Shor
Beyond Trump vs Clinton
Ellen Brown
Japan’s “Helicopter Money” Play: Road to Hyperinflation or Cure for Debt Deflation?
Richard W. Behan
The Banana Republic of America: Democracy Be Damned
Binoy Kampmark
Undermining Bernie Sanders: the DNC Campaign, WikiLeaks and Russia
Arun Gupta
Trickledown Revenge: the Racial Politics of Donald Trump
Sen. Bernard Sanders
What This Election is About: Speech to DNC Convention
David Swanson
DNC Now Less Popular Than Atheism
Linn Washington Jr.
‘Clintonville’ Reflects True Horror of Poverty in US
Deepak Tripathi
Britain in the Doldrums After the Brexit Vote
Louisa Willcox
Grizzly Threats: Arbitrary Lines on Political Maps
Robert J. Gould
Proactive Philanthropy: Don’t Wait, Reach Out!
Victor Grossman
Horror and Sorrow in Germany
Nyla Ali Khan
Regionalism, Ethnicity, and Trifurcation: All in the Name of National Integration
Andrew Feinberg
The Good TPP
400 US Academics
Letter to US Government Officials Concerning Recent Events in Turkey
July 25, 2016
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
As the Election Turns: Trump the Anti-Neocon, Hillary the New Darling of the Neocons
Ted Rall
Hillary’s Strategy: Snub Liberal Democrats, Move Right to Nab Anti-Trump Republicans
William K. Black
Doubling Down on Wall Street: Hillary and Tim Kaine
Russell Mokhiber
Bernie Delegates Take on Bernie Sanders
Quincy Saul
Resurgent Mexico
Andy Thayer
Letter to a Bernie Activist
Patrick Cockburn
Erdogan is Strengthened by the Failed Coup, But Turkey is the Loser
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail