FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Writers’ Strike Finally Ends

Now that the Writers Guild of America (WGA) has voted to settle its 100-day strike against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), and, hopefully, will be returning to work as early as Wednesday, we can expect to be bombarded with post-strike analysis. There will be competing explanations for what happened, what didn’t happen, why it happened, what should have happened, and what’s going to happen next.

In fact, analysis began even before there was anything concrete to analyze. On Thursday, with details still sketchy and a settlement still in the “rumor” stage, one Hollywood insider summed up the final agreement with this sage comment: “They [the Guild] gained some ground, but the deal wasn’t as good as they wanted.” Not as good as they wanted? Gee, really?

First, congratulations to the WGA. The writers did what needed to be done, and did it with grace and dignity. The membership stuck together, the negotiators brought to the table a clear agenda, and the union managed, after a lengthy strike, to gain some important concessions, with no rollbacks.

Guild leadership described the deal as one that “. . . protects a future in which the Internet becomes the primary means of both content creation and delivery.” The issue of how the writers should be compensated for digital material (“New Media”) was a primary concern of the WGA, and the main reason-or at least one of the main reasons-for the strike.

Based on summaries of the AMPTP’s offer posted on the Internet, the writers’ deal is similar to the one signed a couple weeks ago by the DGA (Directors Guild of America). Indeed, for having the courage to walk out of negotiations last November the writers should be thanked for setting the table for the DGA. Without the WGA strike (which raised the sperm count dramatically when the Golden Globes were cancelled), it’s unlikely that the directors would have gotten the contract they got.

The 3-year contract gives the WGA jurisdiction (with clear stipulations) over projects created specifically for the Web; it provides payment for “ad-supported streaming” over the Internet (though compensation doesn’t begin until after a 17-24 day “promotional” period, as defined by the producers); it increases payment for residuals on downloaded movies and television shows; and, in the third year, it includes a percentage (2 per cent) of the distributor’s Web stream revenue-an improvement over the directors’ settlement, which pays a flat fee for all three years.

Unless you’re the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), which brings extraordinary leverage to the bargaining table, no union ever gets everything it wants as a result of a strike. As to that observation about this deal not being “as good as they wanted,” in truth, most of the time you don’t even come close. Think about it. If strikes resulted in wholesale improvements to management’s “final” offer, there would be a lot more of them.

It can even be said that unions always “lose” in a strike, particularly a long one. It’s simple arithmetic. When you sacrifice weeks or months of income, it can take, literally, years to make up that loss, whether you’re a striking writer, steelworker, airline pilot or nurse. You work 52 weeks a year to earn 100per cent of your income, which computes to approximately 2per cent per week. So if you’re out 10 weeks, you’ve lost about 20per cent of your wages. Do the math. It would take an extravagantly generous contract to wipe out 20per cent in lost wages.

People who don’t belong to a union don’t understand that the prospect of losing money can’t prevent you from going on strike. You strike over larger, long-term issues, not short-term money. You lose money in order to gain money. Moreover, if management truly believes there’s no chance of the membership going on strike, no matter what’s involved or how ugly negotiations become, they have little incentive to sweeten their offer. Without the threat of pain, why should they?

By showing the AMPTP that it was willing to pull the plug — willing to sacrifice three months wages for issues it believed In — the WGA not only won some key New Media provisions, but established a solid foundation for future bargains. While the union failed to get some items it wanted, including jurisdiction for reality shows and animation, genuine progress was made. They came away with a much improved contract.

However, that earlier reference to the Longshoremen does raise one interesting, if wildly speculative point. In no way is this meant to second-guess the WGA. They fought a valiant fight, and did what they felt had to be done.

But just for fun, consider what might have happened had the writers stayed out for three more months. Yes, it would have put tremendous pressure on the membership, and yes, it would have invited a potentially toxic public relations backlash. But it also would have torpedoed the Academy Awards, sent the upcoming television season into chaos, and put the fear of God into the producers’ Alliance. Not a bad trifecta.

The reason the Longshoremen do so well at the bargaining table is because they “own” the docks. Ships can’t drop off cargo anywhere on the west coast except at a union port. And, unlike factories, which are “portable” and can be relocated to other states and other countries, the docks can’t be moved. This translates into guaranteed job security, something that factory workers can only dream about.

As for hiring replacements to fill in for striking ILWU members, that isn’t an option. The shipping companies know it, and prospective employees sniffing around for work know it. Unless they want to be harassed or, worse, have their heads bashed in, no one crosses a Longshoremen picket line. No way, no how.

But don’t the writers have this same sort of leverage? After all, the executives can’t write their own TV shows or movies. And because the WGA is a tightly knit union, the studios can’t expect scabs to jump in and take over. They don’t have the option of going off-shore. And they certainly can’t expect dumb reality shows and stale reruns to hold audiences forever.

All of which makes you wonder, hypothetically, what kind of contract the union would have gotten had they stayed out three months longer. Again, this is not to second-guess the WGA’s members or leadership. They performed admirably. But it’s something to think about . . . for next time.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

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

Weekend Edition
July 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Atwood
Peace or Armageddon: Take Your Pick
Paul Street
No Liberal Rallies Yet for the Children of Yemen
Nick Pemberton
The Bipartisan War on Central and South American Women
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Are You Putin Me On?
Andrew Levine
Sovereignty: What Is It Good For? 
Brian Cloughley
The Trump/NATO Debacle and the Profit Motive
David Rosen
Trump’s Supreme Pick Escalates America’s War on Sex 
Melvin Goodman
Montenegro and the “Manchurian Candidate”
Salvador Rangel
“These Are Not Our Kids”: The Racial Capitalism of Caging Children at the Border
Matthew Stevenson
Going Home Again to Trump’s America
Louis Proyect
Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders and the Dilemmas of the Left
Patrick Cockburn
Iraqi Protests: “Bad Government, Bad Roads, Bad Weather, Bad People”
Robert Fantina
Has It Really Come to This?
Russell Mokhiber
Kristin Lawless on the Corporate Takeover of the American Kitchen
John W. Whitehead
It’s All Fake: Reality TV That Masquerades as American Politics
Patrick Bobilin
In Your Period Piece, I Would be the Help
Ramzy Baroud
The Massacre of Inn Din: How Rohingya Are Lynched and Held Responsible
Robert Fisk
How Weapons Made in Bosnia Fueled Syria’s Bleak Civil War
Gary Leupp
Trump’s Helsinki Press Conference and Public Disgrace
Josh Hoxie
Our Missing $10 Trillion
Martha Rosenberg
Pharma “Screening” Is a Ploy to Seize More Patients
Basav Sen
Brett Kavanaugh Would be a Disaster for the Climate
David Lau
The Origins of Local AFT 4400: a Profile of Julie Olsen Edwards
Rohullah Naderi
The Elusive Pursuit of Peace by Afghanistan
Binoy Kampmark
Shaking Establishments: The Ocasio-Cortez Effect
John Laforge
18 Protesters Cut Into German Air Base to Protest US Nuclear Weapons Deployment
Christopher Brauchli
Trump and the Swedish Question
Chia-Chia Wang
Local Police Shouldn’t Collaborate With ICE
Paul Lyons
YouTube’s Content ID – A Case Study
Jill Richardson
Soon You Won’t be Able to Use Food Stamps at Farmers’ Markets, But That’s Not the Half of It
Kevin MacKay
Climate Change is Proving Worse Than We Imagined, So Why Aren’t We Confronting its Root Cause?
Thomas Knapp
Elections: More than Half of Americans Believe Fairy Tales are Real
Ralph Nader
Warner Slack—Doctor for the People Forever
Lee Ballinger
Soccer, Baseball and Immigration
Louis Yako
Celebrating the Wounds of Exile with Poetry
Ron Jacobs
Working Class Fiction—Not Just Surplus Value
Perry Hoberman
You Can’t Vote Out Fascism… You Have to Drive It From Power!
Robert Koehler
Guns and Racism, on the Rocks
Nyla Ali Khan
Kashmir: Implementation with Integrity and Will to Resolve
Justin Anderson
Elon Musk vs. the Media
Graham Peebles
A Time of Hope for Ethiopia
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Homophobia in the Service of Anti-Trumpism is Still Homophobic (Even When it’s the New York Times)
Martin Billheimer
Childhood, Ferocious Sleep
David Yearsley
The Glories of the Grammophone
Tom Clark
Gameplanning the Patriotic Retributive Attack on Montenegro
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail