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since 1997 | by maryann johanson

why the Hollywood writers strike matters

The Writers Guild of America — the people who first create the television shows and the movies that you love — are on strike. They’re on strike because the networks and the studios treat them like shit, treat them like their contribution is incidental to the production of shows and films that fine people like you pay to see. As a writer, though not a union member, that appalls me.

The last writers’ strike, in 1988, lasted five months. I’m guessing this one will wrap itself up more quickly, partly because of the very bone of contention that caused the writers to walk out in the first place: the Internet. The crux of this industrial action is Internet residuals, and the WGA members are getting their side heard far more easily than they did 20 years ago… thanks to the Net.

Via YouTube, here’s a quick and succinct explanation of why the strike matters:

And more — Sandra Oh, from Grey’s Anatomy:

Damon Lindelof, creator of Lost, and Marc Cherry, creator of Desperate Housewives, on how Hollywood writers aren’t as rich as you think they are:

Writers from The Office explain that most of their viewers watch the show online, a venue from which the writers who make you laugh don’t see a single penny, even though the network sees lots and lots of them:

That show has, by the way, “shut down for good” (meaning, for the duration of the strike), according to the official unoffical blog of the striking writers, UnitedHollywood.com. Why? Because WGA-member Steve Carell has informed NBC that he is unable to report to work because he is suffering from “enlarged balls.” Good for him.

Supporting the strikers means NOT supporting corporations for which profit — and the paycheck of the CEO and other execs — is absolutely primary, even above taking care of the people that make the product that gives those guys their jobs in the first place. And it’s worth remembering, too, that unless you’re a superstar in Hollywood — whether we’re talking about writers or directors or actors — chances are excellent that 1) you’re unemployed half the time, or more, 2) any dough you do make has to get split with the IRS, agents, managers, and so on, 3) and you’re constantly paying off the debt accumulated in your last stretch of unemployment.

I don’t mean to overplay the financial direness of many of these striking writers: most of them are way better off than I am, and as precarious as my situation is, I’m better off than many other Americans, particularly right now, with the economy in the toilet. But these are talented, creative people who make us laugh, make us cry, entertain us… which is even more important when times are tough. They’re not looking for handouts — they’re asking for their fair share, if a tiny one, of the enormous profits their employers are making off their talent and industry. Any working stiff in America should be on their side. Because if you’re not on their side, you’re on the side of corporate greed.

Read more on the strike:

• Daily Kos blogger “the choice is yours” on why supporting independent media during the strike is good for the striking writers

• political blogger Atrios on why the writers must win

Forbes, goddammit, of all outlets, on why the writers must win

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  • “I was just thinking what an interesting concept it is to eliminate the writer from the artistic process. If we could just get rid of these actors and directors, maybe we’ve got something here.”
    — Griffin Mill (Tim Robbins), THE PLAYER

    Writing is a profoundly underrated skill. Everyone thinks they can write. Everyone. Comparatively few people actually CAN, but that doesn’t stop folks – especially folks with hundreds of millions of dollars at stake – from shrugging and saying that screenwriting is incidental. I’d love to get some of them down in front of a laptop and have them try to generate a script that anyone would want to read.

  • Just an observation: The last strike was in 1988, and our options for being entertained were nowhere near as advanced as they are now. Even if/when all of the TV shows I like go off the air because there are no new episodes, I have a bazillion cable channels I can watch. I have 600 DVDs that I can watch. I have video games. I have books. The extent to which I, and many other people, will “miss” TV is perhaps being overestimated.

    And in the meantime, the number of unscripted reality TV and news shows will grow tremendously, and some TV shows, even successful ones, will not return once the strike is complete. How many of these striking writers understand that they may (inadvertantly) be contributing to the formation of a system where writers are simply not needed?

    I’m not saying that the WGA shouldn’t go on strike to get a better deal for their writers. But I am saying that they should be mindful of the consequences of going on strike, especially if it lasts any significant amount of time.

  • PaulW

    I can tell you one thing: from all the diaries I’m seeing online from screenwriters discussing their strike-filled activities, this is going to be the best-written strike in history. The Labor – history of section in the libraries are gonna be great reading in the next six months or so.

    About this hurting the screenwriters: as someone who tries writing, has been self-published, trust me a wordsmith is actually a powerful thing to be. You need writers in politics, in news, in advertising, in all forms of communication (sans painting, but even then it’s almost image-as-words when you look at it the right way). Think of good ole Shakespeare: nearly every word he’s written has been quoted, twisted, re-used, re-quoted, hacked, tracked and shoved into every corner of our lives. How many people quote liberally from the Godfather as though it were parsing out zen wisdom? Marlon Brando may have been a great actor but he needed Tennessee Williams and the guys who wrote On the Waterfront to put the words in his mouth. And Casablanca? Everyone talks about how that was a production being made up as they went along, but even on such deadlines the writers pounded out one of the most quotable sources of all time.

    We need writers. We need the great ones, the decent ones, even the ones who work in porn films (somebody’s gotta figure out how to get the female plumber and the pizza delivery guy into the swimming pool orgy)…

  • Papone

    theres a market for porno writers? Count me in chico

  • Brett

    The writers are completely right. I hope they win.

    As selfish as it is, I’m pissed about losing my favorite shows.

  • MaryAnn

    The extent to which I, and many other people, will “miss” TV is perhaps being overestimated.

    I don’t think it is. A steady diet of infotainment and “unscripted” “reality” shows (which *are* scripted, to a degree, just not by WGA writers) won’t satisfy everyone forever.

    Someone has to write all the shows on those bazillion cable channels. Someone has to write those movies on those 600 DVDs (those writers are WGA members, and they’re on strike, too). Someone has to write those books, those videogames, all those things that entertain us. And if you want writers to keep at it, and to keep at it steadily enough that they get really, really good at it, they have to be paid what’s fair. That’s not happening now.

    Writers will *always* be needed. Writers *have always* been needed, from the first person to tell a story round the fire in the cave. This strike is NOT about whether writers are needed: it’s about whether unions are needed, and whether corporations should be allowed to be such rapacious fucks. I say Yes, and No.

  • Steve

    I support the writer’s strike 1000 %, but the practice of US free to air TV networks allowing viewers to see an episode in high def of any of their shows online on their official sites (and using that as a promotional tool) has always surprised me. Someone doing that might have to watch an ad appearing at the start of an episode (that US networks currently profit from, in the millions of dollars), but the US networks should really start charging people a fee to do that (and I’m guessing if the strike does get resolved, they’ll probably be forced to start charging fees to view episodes online on their official websites), since people who do that, get to watch episodes largely commercial free.

    By charging a fee to view a 40 or 22 minute episode (in high def) of a US show (they could charge
    $US 1.99 for a 40–42 minute episode and 99 US cents for a 22 minute sitcom episode and give this fee to the writers of the episodes, or at least give them 80 % of the fee), it’d encourage US residents to watch an episode on TV, instead of online and give some compensation to the writers of the episodes.

    As someone who lives overseas outside North America, you can only watch these episodes online on official US network websites, if you’re a North American resident, as the US networks have IP address block software that won’t let you watch them, if you reside outside North America. It’s a pity they do that, as there’s massively huge downloading of US shows (much moreso than films) that goes on overseas via bit torrent. If foreigners residing outside of North America could watch these episodes in high def online on official network sites, I’d very gladly be willing to pay a fee to watch episodes online of some US shows, thus compensating the writers of a show.

    The large majority of TV episode downloading done by people overseas, is mostly due to people understandably wanting to see US shows, or new episodes of US shows that haven’t yet aired in their country, or trying to access US shows that get treated pretty shabbily by a network in someone’s country (who have the rights to it), because the show rate poorly on their free to air network and the episodes don’t even get screened.
    People overseas can’t watch US TV show episodes on iTunes, as that service is only currently available to North American residents.

  • MaryAnn

    US networks should really start charging people a fee to do that (and I’m guessing if the strike does get resolved, they’ll probably be forced to start charging fees to view episodes online on their official websites), since people who do that, get to watch episodes largely commercial free.

    The networks are making obscene profits as things stand today. If the networks start charging fees to watch online, then they may well be making even more obscene profits. It wouldn’t change the argument that the writers deserve a larger share of those profits.

    What you say about American TV and overseas viewers goes the other way, too. I’d love to be able to watch some British TV, but I can’t unless I Torrent it or buy DVDs from overseas.

  • Greg

    Variety has reported some US soap opera show writers are unfortunately opting to betray their fellow North American writers and are crossing the line, by continuing to write. Of course these shows are all absolute crap, but as they’re cheap to make, they generate a hell of lot of dime (especially overseas, where they’re probably more popular than they are in the US where they’re made).

    http://www.variety.com/article/VR1117975855.html?categoryid=2821&cs=1

  • MaryAnn

    That sucks.

  • So now I am reading that the TV networks have begun canceling writers’ contracts, a concession that the current TV season is beyond the point of saving. This also hurts the pilot process for next season.

    I’d like to point out that the WGA strike in 1988 had a side effect that lives on to this day: The genesis of reality TV. America’s Most Wanted premiered in early 1988, just after the strike started, and COPS started in early 1989, not long after the strike ended. That’s when TV learned that an unscripted show can be just as profitable as a scripted show.

    Put another way: When writers remove themselves from the process by going on strike, the TV networks work around the lack of writers by developing more unscripted TV shows. Take a look at what we’ve got on TV now… American Idol, American Gladiators, Survivor and its variants (The Amazing Race, etc.), a flurry of game shows, etc. People are still watching these shows, in huge numbers.

    So I am sorry to disagree with a lot of you, but the WGA is doing far more damage to itself than it is to the TV networks. They had better find a compromise soon and get back to work, or they may find themselves without work on a permanent basis.

  • so, what is your solution, Clayj? that writers and other creative workers should just accept whatever crumbs the corporations throw to them? or should they follow the japanese model of the past and work twice as hard? what they’re asking for is so miniscule that even the WSJ (hardly a worker’s friend) concedes that big media corporations won’t feel it a bit. or is it just that the viewing public is so stupid, mindless and crass they’ll accept any stupid piece of crap, interrupted by commercials (which, frankly, are *sometimes* better than the shows)as long as they don’t have to think or do anything to be entertained?

    bread and circuses. that’s where we are. bread and circuses.

  • bitchen frizzy

    It’s not about “solutions.” It’s about dealing in reality.

    To begin with, try listening to what us members of the public are telling you and the writers.

    (a) Entertainment options are myriad. I don’t have to accept any stupid piece of crap in the absence of the WGA. I have lots of options, many of which don’t involve current works of WGA writers. I could even read a book. It’s not true that without scripted shows, the public will or must settle for reality TV. (Heck, there could even be some good scripts from non-WGA members out there.)

    (b) In many cases, that “stupid piece of crap” on TV came out of a WGA member. It’s not just reality shows that are crap. Two corrolaries of this: (1) Crappy scripts are a dime-a-dozen. Good writers are rare, and most people who think they’re that good aren’t – granted, all of that. However, there’s loads of writers out there who can write badly, and they’re competing against each other in a saturated market. (2) The WGA fights to protect and promote mediocrity in its own ranks. Look up the word “guild” in the dictionary to see how far the WGA has strayed in making a common fatal mistake of labor unions.

    (c) Mindless entertainment has its place. First, it’s true that there’s an audience for lowbrow crap. Sad reality, but it is reality. Second, people don’t always turn on the TV to see the latest, greatest artistry. I know people that use the TV as background noise. I know people that would prefer a rerun of “Friends” or “Frasier” to anything current that’s on in that time slot. I even know people that watch the weather and the news on TV – imagine that.

    … which leads to (d). It’s a highly irritating form of snobbery that equates “non-scripted” with “mindless crap.” For one thing, the two are not mutually exclusive – there’s plenty of WGA-scripted mindless crap (see point (b)(2) above). Second, not all reality TV is irredeemably bad, and it’s certainly not a given that all reality TV is worse than the worst scripted shows on TV.

    (e) Every working stiff only gets “crumbs” compared to their company’s total revenue. The WGA has some valid points about royalties and residuals, but the complaint that they’re only getting crumbs sounds whiny to the working public.

  • MaryAnn

    the WGA is doing far more damage to itself than it is to the TV networks. They had better find a compromise soon and get back to work, or they may find themselves without work on a permanent basis.

    No. The WGA writers may find themselves without work from the studios and the networks, but that doesn’t mean they won’t go start up their own companies. The Internet changes everything. The studios and the networks are dinosaurs, and they’re not the only game in town anymore.

    Every working stiff only gets “crumbs” compared to their company’s total revenue. The WGA has some valid points about royalties and residuals, but the complaint that they’re only getting crumbs sounds whiny to the working public.

    It shouldn’t sound whiny. It should be making the rest of us say, What the hell is going on, and why have we put up with it for so long? If WGA writers have the opportunity to demand more, all we working stiffs should be supporting that, not complaining that because we’re being mistreated they should be happy to be mistreated too.

    My god, what has this world come to? If Charles Dickens were writing *Oliver Twist* today, would all the other orphans have to beat up Oliver for asking for more gruel and not being properly grateful for being half-starved for it to be plausible?

  • MaryAnn

    Oh, and another thing:

    I have lots of options, many of which don’t involve current works of WGA writers. I could even read a book.

    Do the creators of your other entertainment options deserve to be paid fairly for their work? Or should they, too, be thankful for the tiny crumbs they receive?

  • bitchen frizzy

    Are you actually comparing WGA writers to Dickensian street urchins?

    That’s the perception problem, in a nutshell… the WGA characterizes itself as oppressed serfs, and the public rolls its eyes. The hyperbole is backfiring.

    Of course the creators of entertainment options deserve to be paid fairly. Define “paid fairly,” though. Most people don’t get paid residuals for their work. An architect designs a building, he gets paid a salary, and that’s it. He doesn’t get a cut of the rent money forever after. Again, the perception problem.

    The whole residuals system is archaic. It dates back to the days when exactly one form of media, and a limited number of companies, presented the material to the public. Everything was easily tracked and accounted for. You recognize the problem. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to award residuals for every viewing of a show, especially without adding cost to consumers and advertisers, who aren’t particularly willing to pay much for internet viewing.

  • bitchen frizzy

    And another thing…

    When I read a book, does the author deserve a residual for each time I read it, or it the royalty received for sale of the book sufficient?

    I buy some books second hand. No royalties on secondhand sales. Is that wrong?

  • MaryAnn

    Secondhand books are not the same thing. Not the same at all.

    the WGA characterizes itself as oppressed serfs, and the public rolls its eyes. The hyperbole is backfiring.

    It’s NOT hyperbole. The median income of WGA members is $5,000. We’re not talking about rich people here.

    Of course the creators of entertainment options deserve to be paid fairly. Define “paid fairly,” though. Most people don’t get paid residuals for their work. An architect designs a building, he gets paid a salary, and that’s it. He doesn’t get a cut of the rent money forever after. Again, the perception problem.

    Again, the perception is WRONG. Residuals are NOT bonuses, NOT payment beyong an initially agreed-upon salary. They are *deferred* salary. Imagine if that same architect was asked to take a smaller payment initially in return for more payments later based on what those rents turned out to be. That’s what residuals are. Most people would refuse, because why should the value of your work be diminished by factors outside your control? (Like how your boss promotes your work.) Most people demand the full value of the work — or as much as one can get (which has been lowered as unions have lost their power, of course). But TV and film writers HAVE taken this gamble.

    But it’s even worse. Imagine if your boss said, “Look, take this small payment now, and I’ll pay you more later, and in exchange for agreeing to that, I’ll up that residual payment after X years,” and then after X years, your boss says, “Sorry, chump, I’m not gonna give you a raise after all.” THAT’S what we’re talking about here. The writers gave concessions to resolve their last strike that were supposed to be fulfilled now, and that aren’t. They have every right to be royally pissed off, and every right to demand what they were promised.

    The networks and the studios are the ones who are being disingenous here. They have crowed about the massive profits they will be making off the Internet in coming years, and they are unwilling to share a tiny, tiny sliver of those profits — which WOULD NOT EXIST without the work of the writers — with those writers. They deserve every negative outcome of this strike, because they are cutting off their collective nose to spite their face. They are letting outrageous greed control them. That isn’t even good for them, or for their shareholders, in the short, medium, or long term. Their foolishness knows, apparently, no bounds.

  • MaryAnn

    Are you actually comparing WGA writers to Dickensian street urchins?

    Yes. See above concerning the median income of WGA members.

  • MaryAnn

    Oh, and one more thing. Whether the output of WGA writers is considered crap or not is not the question. The question is, If that work turns a profit — no matter how many snooty critics like me call it crap — that profit deserves, by any just and moral measure, with the people who created that profitable product.

    Instead of saying that, “Sure, TV can survive on reality shows forever,” we should be calling foul on Hollywood for allowing those profitable shows to be produced outside the rules of a union looking out for its members.

  • bitchen frizzy

    “It’s NOT hyperbole. The median income of WGA members is $5,000. We’re not talking about rich people here.”

    What’s the upper end of the pay scale? Some writers make lots of money. Everyone knows that the WGA’s situation is much the same as the SAG’s. Lots of wannabes crowding the field at the low end of the pay scale, and a few successful workers at the top. This situation isn’t likely to change much if the WGA gets what it wants. The writers that are out of work will continue to make nothing, the writers making very little will make just a little bit more. There’s simply not enough work to go around. The WGA isn’t really advocating living wages for all members, it’s advocating a greater share of the profits. These are not the same thing, and the distinction isn’t lost on the public.

    “That’s what residuals are. Most people would refuse, because why should the value of your work be diminished by factors outside your control? (Like how your boss promotes your work.)”

    I know what residuals are, and I know that they are much or even most of a writer’s income.

    “But TV and film writers HAVE taken this gamble.”

    And how’s that working out for them?

    “Imagine if your boss said, “Look, take this small payment now, and I’ll pay you more later, and in exchange for agreeing to that, I’ll up that residual payment after X years,” and then after X years, your boss says, “Sorry, chump, I’m not gonna give you a raise after all.”

    If my boss said that, I’d find another job. What kind of idiot tries to make a living with that kind of pay arrangement? Thing is, for some writers – a small segment of the WGA – the “small payment” isn’t so small. It’s actually enough to live on.

    “…those profits — which WOULD NOT EXIST without the work of the writers — ”

    This is an especially tiresome part of the WGA’s argument. This statement is true of all work done by skilled labor for all corporations. Why do writers think they’re special in this regard?

    “Whether the output of WGA writers is considered crap or not is not the question.”

    Oh, but it is, for the public. It’s not just snooty critics that label it as such. When it comes to the public’s sympathies, these perceptions matter, fairly or not.

    “…we should be calling foul on Hollywood for allowing those profitable shows to be produced outside the rules of a union…”

    Actually, I’m not defending Hollywood’s business practices. That’s not really the gist of my argument at all, which is more about the WGA’s chances in this strike and the lack of public support. That said, though, the WGA is discovering that unions don’t set rules for corporations to follow (your choice of words there was interesting). Unions use leverage to negotiate concessions.

  • MaryAnn

    What’s the upper end of the pay scale? Some writers make lots of money.

    Yes, that’s true. But most of them don’t.

    Everyone knows that the WGA’s situation is much the same as the SAG’s. Lots of wannabes crowding the field at the low end of the pay scale, and a few successful workers at the top.

    People who have sold scripts — and actors who have landed roles — are NOT “wannabes.” They are working professionals. Or are you suggesting that only someone who gets rich as a creative professional deserves to be treated fairly?

    There’s simply not enough work to go around.

    That is absolutely NOT what this strike is about. It’s about fair pay for those who DO get work.

    If my boss said that, I’d find another job. What kind of idiot tries to make a living with that kind of pay arrangement?

    So, no one should work as a writer for film and TV, then? Or at least no one who expects to be treated fairly? We should simply concede that huge corporations should be able to get away with whatever they can get away with?

    Thing is, for some writers – a small segment of the WGA – the “small payment” isn’t so small. It’s actually enough to live on.

    And what about the rest of the writers?

    This is an especially tiresome part of the WGA’s argument. This statement is true of all work done by skilled labor for all corporations. Why do writers think they’re special in this regard?

    The question isn’t whether writers think they’re “special” but why EVERYONE shouldn’t think they deserve to be paid what they’re worth.

    I simply do not understand this argument. Because many people are mistreated everyone should settle for mistreatement even if they have the leverage to demand they not be mistreated?

    “Whether the output of WGA writers is considered crap or not is not the question.”

    Oh, but it is, for the public. It’s not just snooty critics that label it as such. When it comes to the public’s sympathies, these perceptions matter, fairly or not.

    So, what you’re saying then is this: People know TV and movies are crap, but they consume it anyway and thereby make it profitable, but because it’s crap, the writers should not be fairly paid for their work. It’s okay, though, if the corporations who sling the crap are overcompensated for their contribution to the crap.

    What kind of sense does this make?

  • bitchen frizzy

    What are you advocating, anyway? You oscillate between increased share of profits for successful writers, and an argument sounds like enforced profit-sharing to guarantee living wages to every screenwriter who contributed, however incidentally, to a script. The latter is not what the WGA is on strike about. The WGA is striking for an increased share of profits. Even if the WGA got everything it wanted, and even if the settlement was totally “fair” as the WGA defines it, there’d still be writers that wouldn’t make enough to live on. Your $5000 median-income writer would then be making, say, $6000. For the members at the bottom of the pile, the WGA’s demands only amount to bigger crumbs.

  • “… we should be calling foul on Hollywood for allowing those profitable shows to be produced outside the rules of a union looking out for its members.”

    Ah, I think we have found the crux of the argument: The belief (or not) that a union holds some sort of moral authority over the company that employs its members and can dictate how (and with whom, and when) the company does business.

    I’m curious as to why the WGA or any other union feels like they can force companies that employ their members to obey arbitrary rules set up by the unions, not by the companies or their shareholders. When A and B are doing business with each other, and they have a disagreement as to the terms of their arrangement, they can either negotiate new terms, or they can cease doing business with each other. But I don’t see where A gets off on telling B that B can’t do business with C because there is a disagreement.

    Right now, the conversation sounds like this:

    WGA: We don’t like the deal we have with you guys as to how much we get paid.

    TV: Um, OK. How about this much? (Some offer is made.)

    WGA: No, not good enough. We’re going on strike.

    TV: Um, OK. We’ll just put on a bunch of shows that don’t require writers until you agree to come back to work. We know that Americans love watching TV, and there are plenty of ideas for good TV shows that don’t require any writers.

    WGA: Hey, no fair! You can’t do business without us!

    TV: So you expect us to shut down because you don’t like the terms of our arrangement? You don’t own the network; you don’t get to dictate terms to us. If you want to do business, fine; otherwise, we’ll just proceed without your input. Welcome to the free market.

    WGA: Poop.

    Imagine if miners in a coal mine thought they weren’t getting paid enough, and went on strike… and as a result, the mine owners brought in robotic miners that could do the job in place of humans. Would the human miners really have any standing to complain that their jobs were gone? Would they really have any right to insist that the mine shut down in their absence? They don’t own the mine; they stopped working by their own choice; and the mine owners did what they had to to stay in business. Seems pretty reasonable to me.

    I’m not saying the networks shouldn’t negotiate in good faith with the unions; but I am saying that the unions shouldn’t feel like they have some sort of moral authority that lets them dictate terms to the networks. Either side is free to walk away from the table whenever they feel they’re getting a raw deal, and they’re equally free to sit back and see how long the other side can stand being out of business.

    Someone mentioned the idea of the writers getting together and starting their own TV networks or movie studios, where they could insist on whatever kind of deal they wanted for the writers. If they can make this work, more power to them.

    But for now, TV has the ability to remain in business even without writers, and that is something the writers should think about. Work, or don’t; get paid, or don’t.

    It’s their choice.

  • MaryAnn

    You oscillate between increased share of profits for successful writers, and an argument sounds like enforced profit-sharing to guarantee living wages to every screenwriter who contributed, however incidentally, to a script.

    I have said no such thing.

    Your $5000 median-income writer would then be making, say, $6000. For the members at the bottom of the pile, the WGA’s demands only amount to bigger crumbs.

    You know, when you’re struggling to pay a mortgage or put clothes on your kids, I’m sure that thousand bucks would come in handy. THAT’S the point of pointing out the low median income of WGA members, not to suggest that all members of the union should make a certain annual income, but to highlight the fact that these are not superrich Hollywood fatcats we’re talking about. We’re talking about people to whom crumbs are meaningful.

  • MaryAnn

    WGA: Hey, no fair! You can’t do business without us!

    When has the WGA said anything like that?

    I can’t believe anyone is seriously arguing that workers do not have the right to
    bargain collectively with their employers.

    But hey, slave away, or don’t. It’s the workers’ choice, after all, and their own stupid fault that they don’t own immensely powerful international corporations. Everyone knows that only the rich and powerful have earned the right to push the weaker and not-rich around.

  • bitchen frizzy

    –I have said no such thing.

    OK, so that’s clear. I wasn’t sure, so I asked. So we can agree that, even if writers were fairly compensated as defined by the WGA, most wouldn’t make enough to make a living at screenwriting. Have you considered the implications of that on the WGA’s bargaining position? Has the WGA? There’s either a vast oversupply of talent in the labor pool or screenwriting talent isn’t worth much. I believe the former, not the latter, to be the case; but either way it has a bearing on negotiations. The WGA can’t be naive enough to fail to understand this, so I must assume they are choosing to ignore it.

    –WGA: Hey, no fair! You can’t do business without us!
    –When has the WGA said anything like that?

    They said that by going on strike! Good heavens, what does the WGA think a strike is? It’s brinkmanship. Are you telling me that they truly didn’t realize this before they walked out?

    –I can’t believe anyone is seriously arguing that workers do not have the right to
    bargain collectively with their employers.

    Analogy: everyone should have the right to speak freely. Does everyone have that right, in reality and in actual practice? No, they do not. They should, and in an ideal world they would, but not everyone does. Most workers, in fact – in reality – are commonly in no position to bargain collectively for more than they are already getting. Saying that does not constitute an endorsement or defense of corporations. It’s an acknowledgement of reality. These facts should be considered before risking a strike.

    –But hey, slave away, or don’t.

    I say again, the public rolls eyes when the WGA plays its “solidarity with the migrant workers” card. You’ve already conceded that writers with full-time employment are generally quite well-compensated. The reason most writers are not making a living wage is that there isn’t full-time work available, not that they are being exploited like Dickensian child laborers. So its not a question of them being treated like slaves. It’s a question of them not getting as big a slice of the pie as they think they should. Their claim may be valid, and maybe they’re being dealt with unfairly, but all of this hyperbole about being treated like slaves and about being one with the oppressed merely antagonizes workers who really are being treated like slaves and are being oppressed.

  • MaryAnn

    They said that by going on strike!

    No. By striking, the WGA says, “You can’t do the same kind of business you’d been doing before.” The WGA does not expect that the corps won’t do whatever they can to find other business — like shows that, because of bizarre and byzantine rules, are scripted by non WGA writers.

    Most workers, in fact – in reality – are commonly in no position to bargain collectively for more than they are already getting.

    Yeah, because unions got busted by the corporations! The way to fix that is NOT to let one still-effective union go away, but to support it!

    And look: I am not comparing WGA writers to slaves, and neither is the WGA. I’m saying that the attitude you’re espousing — that we should take whatever our overlords deign to give us, and not complaining if it isn’t enough — is the road to slavery.

    WGA writers are compensated as they are because of their union. The many people who are treated like shit by their employees — like, say, Wal-Mart — have to suffer that because they DON’T HAVE A UNION. Because Wal-Mart thwarts any attempt by its employees to form a union.

    And you’re saying that’s the way things should be?

  • bitchen frizzy

    –No. By striking, the WGA says, “You can’t do the same kind of business you’d been doing before.”

    Striking is serious business for real labor unions genuinely concerned with the welfare of their members. As you say, union members are real people with mortgages and kids. When the union calls a strike, its members put their livelihoods on the line on the bet that their employer will need them enough to strike a deal. A strike is not about “sending a message” and striking poses with celebrities making speeches. If the WGA’s membership called the strike to tell the corporate executives how to run their company and how it’s gonna be, then they really are clueless about what a real labor union is all about. In that case, the WGA isn’t working to better the lot of its members, it’s instead demanding a seat in the boardroom alongside the fatcats. Where do they get off doing that? The public suspects that the WGA doesn’t just want fairness but also a piece of the action, and what you and the WGA say about their ambitions seems to bear that suspicion out. Hell, the WGA leadership is playing at being a labor union the way Marie Antoinette played at being a peasant in her mock village. The rank-and-file WGA members have little to gain and much to lose in this game, and maybe they’d already be across the picket lines if the WGA and SAG’s previous power plays hadn’t made it difficult for nonunion writers to get in. Certainly, they WGA isn’t pressing for what might really help them: more upfront compensation and less dependence on residuals.

    –Yeah, because unions got busted by the corporations!

    It’s much more complicated than that. Market forces have a bearing on the value of labor, especially when there’s an oversupply. I’ll keep bringing this point up, because when you keep sidestepping it your silence speaks volumes to my argument that the WGA isn’t in the best position to be dictating terms.

    –And look: I am not comparing WGA writers to slaves, and neither is the WGA.

    You didn’t directly compare them to slaves, no. You used the phrase “slave away.” You did directly compare the WGA to Dickensian street urchins. That’s the same sort of hyperbole.

    –WGA writers are compensated as they are because of their union.

    I hope for their sakes that their compensation is mostly in proportion to the value of their work. If there’s nothing justifying their wages besides a union contract, then their in a very bad position to negotiate.

    –…and not complaining if it isn’t enough…

    Enough for what? You’ve already conceded that the WGA isn’t arguing for enough money to live on. They’re demanding more: more control over corporate policies, more share of corporate profits, larger residuals, and so forth. Their “plight” isn’t nearly the same as…

    –The many people who are treated like shit by their employees — like, say, Wal-Mart…

    Wal-Mart workers suffer because they offer unskilled labor in a time of declining standards of living. It’s not as simple as forming a union, and Wal-Mart thwarts unions by the simple fact that plenty of desperate people will take the non-union wages. Wal-Mart workers have a truly desperate plight that the white-collar professionals of the WGA, with plenty of options and a real shot at wealth at the top of their profession, cannot truly identify with. And let’s face it, if the WGA wins its concessions, with plenty of help from powerful unions like the SAG, nothing will change measurably for Wal-Mart workers.

    –And you’re saying that’s the way things should be?
    What I am saying is that the WGA’s sympathy ploy isn’t working, and they are oblivious to how much damage they are doing to their own cause by using it.

  • MaryAnn

    I give up. We see the world from such different perspectives that there’s no point in continuing to talk at cross purposes.

    I’ve made my position perfectly clear.

  • Bitchen, I think you’re labouring under a misconception here. The single most crucial issue of the strike isn’t increased residuals, which have actually been taken off the table at this point. It’s the fact that, currently, studios pay zero–as in zip, nada, nothing–for internet use of TV and movies. This isn’t a huge financial blow to the writers *now*, but if there comes a time when most TV shows and movies are distributed via the internet, the writers will see a significant rollback in their salaries. This strike is about sorting out future technologies now, instead of waiting until things get out of hand.

    Of course, for reasons I don’t fully understand, you seem to be opposed to royalties paid to writers in general, so maybe that means nothing to you. I’ve never heard anyone attempt to argue that upfront payments are a fairer or more logical way of paying entertainers for their work than residuals.

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