By twhalliii | THE BACK ROW MANIFESTO by Tom Hall February 9, 2008 at 4:37AM
Now that the end is in sight, some thoughts from the very back row of the WGA Strike...
I awoke to the welcome and inevitable news this Saturday morning that there has been a tentative agreement in the Writer's Guild of America (WGA) strike against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). It is good news that the most highly publicized labor action of the last decade or so in this country has been resolved by compromise on both sides; I hope that this bodes well for other unions, regardless of their industry, to work toward mutually beneficial agreements in competitive industries around the country. That said, it is so difficult in a nation that glorifies the work of CEOs and executives to a fault (ludicrous salaries, minimal regulatory accountability), thinks of the working class as disposable and values a company's share price over its obligations to its workers (the erosion of hard-won benefits, the loss of whistle-blower protections) and, frankly, the planet (the lack of international environmental oversight or labor standards) not to look at the WGA's result as a victory for labor.
We've just endured twenty seven years of labor making major concessions in order to save jobs, only to watch those jobs lost to unregulated overseas corporate expansion, so seeing a strike result not in rollbacks, but actual gains for labor (and gains that are fair to the industry), well, it's heartening. Obviously, the circumstances are very different for writers and creative workers as compared to say, auto workers, but it still feels good. Let's not spin things the WGA's way too much or somehow rub this in the AMPTP's face; While these concessions could have been made from the get-go, the AMPTP also did a good job of recognizing that the best economic interests of the industry lie in a solution, and they acted accordingly. Anyone claiming "victory" beyond compromise seems to me disingenuous; A new, fair contract is always a victory for both sides and to act otherwise is pure ego. Let's be real; This action and result are like a pin prick of light in the black hole of labor's future. Anywhere else you look, it doesn't look good for working people, so I hope that the members of the WGA keep that in mind moving forward.
That said, it has been a difficult three-plus months for me personally; the strike has had a highly negative impact on our household. My wife is an IATSE worker in New York City, working for years on a popular network TV show. She hasn't worked since early December, and while we both support the WGA in their action, it has been hard to stand on the sidelines during a labor action, taking a big economic hit in our home as we ride out the strike, knowing full well that when the action is over and the sacrifice has been made, there is absolutely no change for her; It's back to business as usual. Not that she's complaining; She likes her job and she is compensated fairly for her work (despite the crush of hours during the season). But as is typical in today's world, only the squeakiest wheels get the grease, and this shut down has really been hard on a lot of people who get no ink at all. Yeah, I know, the WGA would say that we should blame management for not doing the right thing from the start, but to be honest, I think that the lack of solidarity among the writers, directors and actors carries a lot of the blame for this shut down. Sure, these folks have a diverse set of interests, but like any collective bargaining agreement, their strength would be in their numbers and the recognition of their mutual benefits. It's no surprise that the Director's Guild agreement had such a profound impact on the WGA agreement. Had these unions gone to the table together, I think all of this would have been avoided; It's simply labor 101. And that strategic mistake is hard to swallow for those on the sidelines, forced to bide their time while some (not all) unreasonable expectations run wild among those who should have done better from the beginning.
Of course, film and television as a business is built around the worship of ego and, like all business, on screwing your partners in order to get the best advantage for yourself. Now that the WGA and AMPTP have found a way to screw each other and still feel good about themselves in the morning, let's get back to work, eh? There are plenty of people out there who could use the paycheck.