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

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Cycle of Crises
Andrew Levine
Viva Trump?
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Behind the Congressional Disagreements Over the Iran Nuclear Deal
Lawrence Ware – Marcus T. McCullough
I Won’t Say Amen: Three Black Christian Clichés That Must Go
Evan Jones
Zionism in Britain: a Neglected Chronicle
John Wight
Learning About the Migration Crisis From Ancient Rome
Andre Vltchek
Lebanon – What if it Fell?
Charles Pierson
How the US and the WTO Crushed India’s Subsidies for Solar Energy
Robert Fantina
Hillary Clinton, Palestine and the Long View
Ben Burgis
Gore Vidal Was Right: What Best of Enemies Leaves Out
Suzanne Gordon
How Vets May Suffer From McCain’s Latest Captivity
Robert Sandels - Nelson P. Valdés
The Cuban Adjustment Act: the Other Immigration Mess
Uri Avnery
The Molten Three: Israel’s Aborted Strike on Iran
John Stanton
Israel’s JINSA Earns Return on Investment: 190 Americans Admirals and Generals Oppose Iran Deal
Bill Yousman
The Fire This Time: Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me”
Scott Parkin
Katrina Plus Ten: Climate Justice in Action
Michael Welton
The Conversable World: Finding a Compass in Post-9/11 Times
Brian Cloughley
Don’t be Black in America
Kent Paterson
In Search of the Great New Mexico Chile Pepper in a Post-NAFTA Era
Binoy Kampmark
Live Death on Air: The Killings at WDBJ
Gui Rochat
The Guise of American Democracy
Emma Scully
Vultures Over Puerto Rico: the Financial Implications of Dependency
Chuck Churchill
Is “White Skin Privilege” the Key to Understanding Racism?
Kathleen Wallace
The Id(iots) Emerge
Andrew Stewart
Zionist Hip-Hop: a Critical Look at Matisyahu
Gregg Shotwell
The Fate of the UAW: Study, Aim, Fire
Halyna Mokrushyna
Decentralization Reform in Ukraine
Norman Pollack
World Capitalism, a Basket Case: A Layman’s View
Sarah Lazare
Listening to Iraq
John Laforge
NSP/Xcel Energy Falsified Welding Test Documents on Rad Waste Casks
Wendell G Bradley
Drilling for Wattenberg Oil is Not Profitable
Joy First
Wisconsin Walk for Peace and Justice: Nine Arrested at Volk Field
Mel Gurtov
China’s Insecurity
Mateo Pimentel
An Operator’s Guide to Trump’s Racism
Yves Engler
Harper Conservatives and Abuse of Power
Michael Dickinson
Police Guns of Brixton: Another Unarmed Black Shot by London Cops
Ron Jacobs
Daydream Sunset: a Playlist
Charles R. Larson
The Beginning of the Poppy Wars: Amitav Ghosh’s “Flood of Fire”
David Yearsley
A Rising Star Over a Dark Forest
August 27, 2015
Sam Husseini
Foreign Policy, Sanders-Style: Backing Saudi Intervention
Brad Evans – Henry A. Giroux
Self-Plagiarism and the Politics of Character Assassination: the Case of Zygmunt Bauman