Monday, February 11, 2008

One Big Onion

Saturday morning, Patric M. Verrone (President, WGAW) & Michael Winship (President, WGAE) sent a statement to WGA members that included the following:

Less than six months ago, the AMPTP wanted to enact profit-based residuals, defer all Internet compensation in favor of a study,forever eliminate "distributor's gross" valuations, and enforce 39 pages of rollbacks to compensation, pension and health benefits, reacquisition, and separated rights. Today, thanks to three months of physical resolve,determination, and perseverance, we have a contract that includes WGA jurisdiction and separated rights in new media, residuals for Internet reuse,enforcement and auditing tools, expansion of fair market value and distributor's gross language, improvements to other traditional elements of the MBA, and no rollbacks. Over these three difficult months, we shut down production of nearly all scripted content in TV and film and had a serious impact on the business of our employers in ways they did not expect and were hard pressed to deflect. Nevertheless, an ongoing struggle against seven multinational media conglomerates, no matter how successful, is exhausting, taking an enormous personal toll on our members and countless others. As such, we believe that continuing to strike now will not bring sufficient gains to outweigh the potential risks and that the time has come to accept this contract and settle the strike. Most important, however, is to continue to use the new collective power we have generated for our collective
benefit. More than ever, now and beyond, we are all in this together.

(emphasis I did)
It's that "nearly all scripted content in TV and film" part that's been bugging me through this whole thing. This strike has ultimately become an example of what happens when the Ox of Labor collides with the big Diesel of Capitalism: Somebody gets a dent and somebody limps home to die. Except the workers got what they wanted to get -- PAID! -- and the owners got to pay them. Which shouldn't have been a problem to begin with.
No, this time Labor (big L) took it on the chin.
For all the unity and solidarity WGA workers and concerned celebrities showed, there really was no way the strike would have lasted much longer. ("The Oscars are coming, the Oscars are coming!") The WGA Presidents had said just that. (Not the Oscars part) Now we'll just go back to a slightly more attractive status quo, demonizing the writers the way the Conservatives demonize Al Gore. I can hear the wags' remarks. "How can you have a work stoppage by stopping doing something that looks like you've already stopped working?" Har har...
So now Membership votes. If the new deal isn't ratified, we'll just see hundreds of "special" deals cut by individual writers with their bosses to get work for the shows wealthy enough to cut the deals. You know, like the Leno thing. Using very clever disingenuity to dodge the definition of "strike." I can walk through the line because I'm not in that particular Union... I can buy my way out... screw the Guild... new paradigm...etc...
The point is, if you can get a good deal for you and your employer and your family, you're doing the right thing by Capitalist standards, and to Hell with the guy who isn't smart enough or quick enough or clever enough to help himself the way that you did. Let the dumb guy suffer, I got mine. That mindset doesn't make Labor particularly strong.
How many Tennessee coal miners cut their own special deals with mine owners and went back to work? That many? But they were known as scabs and were not heroes. If more of them had turned and become goons and scabs, the meager advances made by some union miners would never have happened and the line between life and death for some would have been precariously blurred.
The effect a striking coal miner in Tennessee had on an iron miner in Minnesota, had on a steel worker in Pittsburgh, was clear: My job depends on your job and your working conditions are my concern because if your health and happiness are insured, I can benefit because the whole economy benefits, not just because I get my ton of coal. That particular aspect of the Writers Guild Strike was barely given lip service, except when we were shown the glamorous soon-to-be "out-of-work" actors joining the line and interviews with spoiled Americans wondering aloud how they'll ever survive without fresh teevee distractions.
The notion of "collective" doesn't sit well with the Cult of the Individual. "One person speaking for many? Impossible! How will I get my demands heard?" is the neo-Labor mantra. A free market, apparently, means everybody's free to hope everybody else gets less than you do.
I'm glad this is turning out differently. I'm glad friends and people I admire are getting back to work, with fair remuneration. Congratulations to WGA East and West.
I do, however, wish the Labor Movement had benefitted as well.

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