Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Rising Militancy of Hollywood Labor

Yesterday's VARIETY and THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER had front-page articles (click on title above) regarding how SAG is going after a strike authorization vote... ...and how the producers are taken aback and miffed at this unseemly bristling by the Screean Actors Guild. The AMPTP topkick Nick Counter said in VARIETY: "SAG's reaction is surprising. The offer that's on the table should close the deal..." But apparently the offer didn't slam the lid shut. This isn't surprising. The guilds have been working to get a bigger piece of the residual cake for years; the producers and the AMPTP have made it clear they don't want to cut more generous slices for SAG, the WGA or anybody else. The studios digging in their heels the last ten or fifteen years is -- no doubt -- at least part of the reason SAG and the WGA have now elected more militant officers. We live in a corparatist age of huge multi-national conglomerates, and the conglomerates don't want to give an inch. A few millimeters, maybe. But not an inch. So Hollywood labor today is divided into two camps: the pragmatists -- exemplified by the Directors Guild of America and the IATSE (our mother international) who believe in early, focused negotations and focused results -- and the militants who negotiate to deadline and work to leverage better deals by threatening to strike. The writers and actors are over in this camp. When the playing field was more level, the "strike" strategy worked pretty well. Studios couldn't afford long halts in production, so they gave more. (That's how the unions and guild got residuals in the first place). Today, studios CAN afford to take a strike (or at least, certainly say they can.) I tend to believe them. They are, after all, no longer stand-alone companies, but small fly wheels in the massive clockworks that are Viacom, Disney-ABC, General Electric and Time-Warner. Not like the good old days, eh? This is a drawing of Pluto that was drawn on the Disney picket line in '41. A striker was making drawings and selling them for the Screen Cartoonists' strike fund.

Different times.

Pluto image: (c) Walt Disney Co.

Addendum: At lunch today with other IA reps, the buzz was that the producers intend to take a strike from SAG, in order to "teach the militants a lesson." The companies' thinking is (and we'll see if it pans out) that it's better to "send a message" now, over the basic cable agreement, than wait until the larger, master agreements are up for negotiation in a year or two and more jobs are at stake.


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