Sunday, December 16, 2007

Old Sound-bites Never Die

Variety has a look-back at the 1960 Writers Guild strike that demonstrates the old issues and accompanying p.r. sound-bites, never change a hell of a lot:

"They were telling us that filmed television (shows) were still so new, we don't know if they're really going to amount to anything," says Christopher Knopf, the TV and film writer who served as WGA West prexy from 1965 to '67. "And on a health and pension plan, management told us it was impossible."

In '60, the guilds wanted robust residuals. They wanted a solid health and pension plan (long-term employment with studios was long over). The corporate response -- as reported on the January 20, 1960 front page of VARIETY -- didn't come close to what labor wanted:

Writers Guild of America expresses disappointment after morning meeting with company presidents. States latter showed no "willingness whatsoever" to negotiate on tv issue. Company heads refused to comment on WGA statement.

Not much different than the quality of the give-and-take going on today. But who who won that first WGA industry walkout when negotiations concluded is clear: "By any reasonable measure, round one went to the scribes, who secured a gold-plated pension and health-benefits plan that remain top tier to this day..."

What was the big difference between 1960 and now? Scanning the VARIETY piece, I would say not very much ... except this:

... It was a rough time financially for the majors, which were rickety, undercapitalized operations ...

And that reality is the key to everything else. "The majors" today are conglomerates with huge cash flows and the deepest of deep pockets. No longer do Hollywood unions have a rough parity with "rickety, undercapitalized" corporations who must find common ground with labor in order to survive.

And it makes, I think, all the difference.


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