Friday, March 28, 2014

Entertainment Union Strikes

Labor writer Dave Robb analyzes the WGA and its strikes.

... The gains in new media won by striking writers six years ago is a major reason it is all but certain that writers won’t be standing under picket signs this spring. ... As to that long discussion of whether the writers gained anything else during that strike, I spent years covering showbiz labor unions and have observed you have to look far down the road for the answer. Past writers strikes are like forest fires: they can be very destructive and suffocating, but they’re a necessary mechanism to clear out the old brush — or an antiquated contract that hasn’t kept pace with the rapidly changing way people receive entertainment content. Nearly all past entertainment industry strikes have that one thing in common: they are the result of new technologies and the uncertainty created about the revenue streams they will deliver.

That was certainly the case in 1959 when writers went on strike for six months over residuals from theatrical films shown on the relatively new medium of television. It was true again in 1988 when writers went on strike for six months over residuals from films and TV shows distributed on home video and cable TV. And it was true in 2007 when writers took to the picket lines for 100 days in a fight over the potential revenues from content made directly for the rapidly evolving field of new media, including internet and cellular technologies.

Burning down the forest every three years is unhealthy as would be writers striking thrice a decade to catch up with the latest content-delivery innovation. That is why the strike of 2007-2008 was so important in hindsight, and why it will go down as a victory not only for writers, but for the industry as well. For while it’s true that only a relatively small amount of money has been earned by writers of product made for new media, the agreement that ended the strike may very well ensure that there will never be another writers strike over new technologies and new delivery systems. ...

[A] future generation of writers may look back on the strike of 2007-2008 with the same sense of gratitude as contemporary writers feel about that past generation of writers who walked picket line in 1959-1960. It also would not be surprising if anyone but writers feel that way. ...

I think labor unions (and the strikes that inevitably go with them) are essential for a healthy, balanced society. It's not that unions and guilds don't make mistakes, or strikes aren't painful, but without them you get the kind of wage and wealth disparity we now endure in the U.S. of A.

While it's quite true that wealth creation isn't a "zero sum" game, when most of the dollars end up in the pockets of a Chosen Few, societies tend to become more unstable and ... dare I say it? ... more painful to live in.

The Haymarket affair didn't materialize out of thin air, after all. There were years of grinding poverty and angry despair helping to make it happen.


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