The Writers Guild of America strike has won
an important victory with the cancellation of the Golden Globe awards show due
to their pressure and solidarity from the actors’ union. The huge publicity
produced by the Oscar awards campaign is worth many more millions of dollars to
the Hollywood studios than the millions it costs.
The WGA have
also made progress in negotiating a deal with United Artists, now owned by Tom
Cruise and Paula Wagner, which includes, in the WGA’s words, “appropriate
minimums and residuals for new media (whether streamed or downloaded, as well
as original made-for content), along with basic cable and pay-TV increases,
feature animation and reality TV coverage, union solidarity language, and
important enforcement, auditing, and arbitration considerations”.
But this two
month old strike is proving a tough battle. The Alliance of Motion Picture and
Television Producers (AMPTP) which basically represents the Hollywood studios
scuppered talks in early December by presenting an ultimatum that the WGA drop
key proposals from the talks. The WGA rejected this.
issue at the start of the dispute was the demand for a bigger share of DVD and
Internet revenues. The unions and also sometimes the ‘talent agents’ who
represent the workers individually, negotiate a small share of what the
projects earn from specified revenue streams as part of their remuneration,
The WGA seem to
have agreed to take the DVD deal off the table at the request of the AMPTP in
order to concentrate on the entirely new Internet issue. But then the Producers’
negotiators blocked any serious progress.
of the dispute is the WGA’s attempt to bring new sections of writers under
their agreement. It currently represents people who write scripts for sitcoms,
dramas, talk shows and movies but is proposing to include writers who work on
animated series, reality shows and material for web sites.
The studios are
all owned by conglomerates: Sony (Columbia, SPC, Screen Gems), Time Warner (New
Line, Warner Bros.), Viacom (Paramount, Dreamworks), NBC (Universal, Focus) and
Murdoch’s News Corporation (20th Century Fox). They all have TV and
New Media interests and fear that if the WGA organizes these currently non-guild
workers they will be much much stronger in future negotiations.
Despite the long
running attacks against unions in America they remain strong in the film
industry – concentrated in Los Angeles and historically called ‘Hollywood’. As
well as the WGA, actors and directors are also well organized in the Screen
Actors Guild (SAG) and the Directors Guild of America (DGA). Crafts people and
technicians are also well organized in IATSE and the Teamsters have a pretty
firm grip on everything that moves.
immediate effect of the strike is on television. A lot of topical shows have
either been replaced with repeats or are struggling along without writers.
Drama will suffer next. The effect on movies will take longer; the studios have
stockpiled projects and have huge backlogs of scripts. But they won’t be able
to get any re-writes done and no new scripts will be commissioned.
The next big
pressure point on the employers is ‘Pilot season’ when potential new series are
tested out as limited pilots. The production line must be fed with new ideas
and new projects or there will be a serious hiccup in the money making. It’s a
bit like any factory, except every product is unique (or slightly unique!) and
its profitability is uncertain, so something new has to be coming along to make
up for the last flop.
Huge amounts of
money are at stake – Disney’s earnings rose from $3.4bn to $4.7bn for the 2007
financial year – though that includes other activities like theme parks, it is
all based on their movie business and the brand that has been created.
It’s true that a
privileged handful of actors, writers and directors get big paydays, just like
successful sportspeople. But according to the guild, over a five-year period,
the average Hollywood writer makes about $62,000 annually.
Beyond the economic
issues there is a massive cultural impact on the minds of millions of people
around the world. This is well understood as an important tool of US
imperialism in defending and extending its global domination. Satellite TV and
now the internet have extended it into even the poorest societies.
So it is important
to spread the news that right at the heart of the richest and most powerful capitalist
power in history, in the most glamorized and mythologized activity, workers are
organized into strong trade unions. And they fight to defend their interests as
workers selling their labour power.
of solidarity and the role their struggle plays in the broader fight for labour
is recognized by many of the strikers, as evidenced in this message to the
“The strike is
important for the writers and locally for the Teamsters, the stagehands and SAG
and the DGA. Nationally, it’s extraordinarily important for every other union
member – people in the Steelworkers, the Iron Workers, the Auto Workers, the
Farm Workers, the health care workers and Service Employees International Union,
the Oil, Gas and Atomic Energy Workers, the United Mine Workers of America, the
Teachers and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and
lots more – because all have issues at stake when a national employers group ‘bargains’
“What comes out
of this strike – including anything that winds up in the National Labor Relations
Board or the courts – is going to have an impact on anyone else’s bargaining.
When AMPTP pulls this sort of stone wall bullshit, for example, it threatens
the Mineworkers’ stability, because while they haven’t had a strike for a long
time and a good run of negotiated contracts, this sort of employer behavior
tells the coal companies to wake up and start demanding give backs like AMPTP
“This industry is one of the few where the US
still dominates the world – folding early and without satisfaction is going to
cost workers across the country, union or not because union scale and benefits
is what an employer has to think about even in a nonunion shop”.