When I first entertained the idea of becoming the Labor Organizer for our Guild, I didn't really have much of an idea as to obstacles or anti-union/organization rhetoric. What could people possibly have against bettering their own lives? How could someone turn down the opportunity to improve their quality of living? I was witness to some pretty horrendous work situations. I have a friend who considered the ultimate "early retirement" due to an illness that was, luckily, misdiagnosed. How could the people I worked next to and called my colleagues turn away from the very things they said they wished for?
Very simple .. They are afraid. ...
gump·tion/ˈgəmpSHən/ Noun: Shrewd or spirited initiative and resourcefulness
It takes a good deal of gumption to be a successful animation artist today. From the start where one has their "A-Ha" moment and identifies the spark of creativity and desire to make pretty pictures. Then that person needs to build their skill set. If they're lucky and blessed, they've been given a leg-up and were handed some the day they drew first breath. Through years of training and practice, and the costs involved, the novice and aficionado has become an artist and now is eager to be a professional. The day finally arrives and said artist is across a table from a hiring manager. An agreement is reached and lo .. the professional is born!
We all can recall the path we took to become that professional. I'm confident a few of you reading that last passage even drifted back and remembered a bit of your journey. What perplexes me is how can the same people who fought and struggled to get that far, suddenly decide to stop pushing for themselves? Why is it ok to be the "good little artists" and accept less than expected just to keep the job?
Easy for me to say, right? I'm not the one scouring job boards and reaching out to everyone I know in order to find the next gig. When that call comes, its hard not to taste what 'Manna from Heaven' must be like. "Thank God .. there's at least four months of income."
I said it myself when I was riding the freelance highway.
So, when I speak to artists now with my Organizer hat and IA lapel pin on*, I shouldn't be surprised when someone says something to the effect of "Yea, but I just got this gig and I don't want to rock the boat" or "I would love to have that health plan, but I don't want to stick my neck out."
But I am surprised. These are the same people with the gumption to sit down and learn the craft; not an easy feat. Their necks are already stretched out from the desire to be the professional artist they've become. The time and effort it took to get to the place where I am asking them to sign a representation card proves that "boat rocking" and "neck sticking" is what comes with the gumption to do what it takes to be in the animation field.
Fear of making waves or of taking a stand just doesn't seem to be a part of the equation. I assign my impetus for seeking and accepting the job at the Guild to that very gumption. But fear is a nasty and mean foe. It keeps artists "in line" while doing what needs to be done to get the production out the door. It has forged the belief that the acceptance of horrendous hours and less than ideal conditions is the norm and that asking for more is arrogant and the recipe for blackballing and longer hiatuses between gigs.
So, what's a poor Organizer to do? I plan on beating the drum as long as I can. I will keep delivering the option of giving the artist leverage in the workplace through the strength of collective bargaining. Hopefully, I can tap into the gumption that drove artists to get where they are and help them decide that its time to take a stand for themselves.
The industry is not going away. Why not make it a bit more comfortable for yourself?