Monday, January 07, 2008

There's aught we hold in common with the greedy parasite

I would have expected to have written more about the writers' strike, because it involves two of my favourite things: industrial action and Joss Whedon. The Writers Guild of America have been on strike for over two months now, and there's lots of information out there and good blogs by striking writers. There are also several websites set up by fans who support writers. There was a Mutant Enemy Picket day, where Joss and the writers and actors from Firefly, Buffy & Angel all picketed together. Some fans came from as far as England and Australia to join the picket.*

The writing for the Golden Globes and the Oscars is usually done by WGA members. THe Guild has announced that it will refused waivers to allow these ceremonies to be written by Guild writers, and will picket the ceremonies if they go ahead without the writers.** Now actors, the sort of Actors who get nominated for Golden Globes and Oscars, have unanimously announced that they will not cross a picket line if the ceremonies are picketed. The first thing Katherine Heigl (to choose one random example, because I have an inexplicable fondness for her) said when she was nominated for a Golden Globe, was that she wouldn't cross a picket line. Without stars there isn't much appeal to an award ceremony. What I thought was particularly awesome, was that the actors apparently took this decision themselves:

SAG decided not to pressure its A-List actors about attending or not attending the WGA-struck Golden Globes on NBC. So I'm told the decision not to cross picket lines came from the thesps themselves. In fact, SAG leadership took a meeting with all of Hollywood's publicists (with a similar collection in NYC via video conference) who told the union that the clients they represent will not cross the WGA picket line for the Golden Globes without exception.
Actors support has gone beyond not getting dressed in pretty gowns and telling their publicists to talk to their union, Actors have picketed, they've used their media pull, they've appeared in a video campaign.

The reason actors are doing this isn't just because Hollywood is full of liberals (or radicals in a few cases). Even Patricia Heaton who thanked the troops when she won an Emmy in 2001 supports the writers. The reason the actors, who are all union members, do this is because it's in their own best interests. The main issue that writers are striking over - payment for work broadcast over the internet is one that is as important for the actors as it is for the writers. If the writers lose then there's no way the actors would get their residuals. The actors solidarity obviously make the writers stronger (the absense of the nominees for best screenplay wouldn't torpedo an award ceremony.

In this case, the urgency of that solidarity is really clear. The contracts expire within months of each other and the issues are identical. But the principle of solidarity works the same way whether the workers are half a world away (solidarity of German dockworkers helped win the recent wharfie strike in Napier) or a completely different industry (wharfies helped win the Progressive lockout last year).

The concept of solidarity isn't hard (it'd be unkind to suggest that if it was people who send their publicists to talk to their union probably wouldn't be able to grasp it so I won't), but often it can seem abstract. Which is why such a show of solidarity, even over an event as ridiculous as the Golden Globes, is pretty damn powerful.

On a less solid note, I'm was sad to see that The Daily Show and The Colbert report will be returning tomorrow without their striking writers. I understand that Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are under contractual obligations; I understand that they have been very supportive of the strike, I understand that there are lots of other people employed by these show, but crossing a picket line is crossing a picket line.

I do want to say something about editors, grips, craft services, and all the other workers who are involved in making a television show. Those who worked on a television series that has stopped production because of the strike aren't working and aren't being paid.

The situation of those workers, while difficult, is not a stick to beat the striking writers with. It's an obligation of solidarity. When the writers win they, and the actors, need to stand solid with the editors, grips and craft services. Those workers need to know that their picket lines will be honoured, that the actors and writers will stand on the picket line with them. Writers and Actors need to do that because solidarity is a mutal obligation, but also beause it's in their own best interest. Unless solidarity extends across the industry the gains that are won with this strike will just temporary.

* I'm more than a little jealous that, odds are, the only people who could afford a twelve hour flight to support a picket line with Joss, probably aren't as into the picket line as much as they're into the Joss.

** It's a little more complicated than that, it's always a little bit more complicated than that, but that's enough to get the point.


  1. Really good post Maia, particularly the latter part about solidarity.

    I think this writers strike really can show that unions and industrial action do have relevance in the 21st century, and that whether the hegemonic political forces of today like it or not, the workers united will never be defeated! :D

  2. Anonymous6:38 am

    To me this begs the question - are there unions for non-writing staff? I'm sure you get well paid to be a camera operator on say, The Daily Show, but I'm not sure they are part of a union or not. When the work stops, what do you do? Or is that supposed to be an incentive for someone to settle the strike?