politics is to want something

mandag, desember 10, 2007

i need a word for that sharp pain i have in my back...

In case you've been living underneath a large pile of dirt for the past few months, you know that screen and television writers are on strike throughout the United States. Pickets and demonstrations have been ongoing in New York and Los Angeles, with solidarity rallies held around the world. At stake is more than a decent contract with good wages and benefits: this strike is over whether writers will be paid at all for the use of their work on the internet, an issue that everyone who makes a living through the creation of art should take very seriously.
Amazingly, the U.S. media has been largely sympathetic toward the writers, in part because their demands are so freakin' reasonable but also because the union (Writers Guild of America) has been quite adept at explaining their case in public. It helps that some of the most talented communicators in the world are in the union's rank and file. Celebrities have flocked to the picket-lines to show support, adding a sexiness to the strike that surrounds few other industrial actions.
A recent attempt to return to the bargaining table failed, as management (the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers) walked away, refusing to make concessions on core issues. Meanwhile, the AMPTP has hired Clinton-linked consultants to help them in their defense of core American values like profiting off of other people's work without paying them.
But now the writers have a new challenge: anti-strike mobilization by other entertainment workers. Yesterday, hundreds of "below the line" television workers (stage hands, line producers) and vendors took to the streets to demand that the two sides "strike a deal". The message was that their shows have been shut down by the strike and they want the two sides to come to an agreement.
Underneath the rhetoric of "not taking sides", however, was a clear attack on the WGA, with chants and picket signs intimating that the writers, whose upper-level salaries are quite a bit higher than many "below the line" employees, are simply spoiled and should go back to work. The president of the stage hands union was even quoted in the always-happy-to-bash-the-labor-movement Los Angeles Times attacking the writers for not wanting to "bargain in good faith", which is a violation of labor law. Ouch. So much for solidarity.
Personally, I can't imagine what it would feel like to be on strike and have co-workers take to the streets to demand that I fold, particularly in a situation like this one where the basic structure of the industry is at stake. It is quite understandable for people to feel resentful when a higher-paid group of workers strikes and it puts them out of work, a situation made more complex by the fact that the the WGA has been less-than-pristine in it's support of other unions' strikes in the past.
Nonetheless, it's a stupid, stupid move that plays right into the hands of the AMPTP. There is nothing more potent in turning public opinion against a strike than to paint strikers as "spoiled", "overpaid", or willing to sacrifice other workers for their own benefit. The timing of it takes the pressure off of management, the folks who are responsible for the breakdown in talks, and reframes a very straight forward conflict into a moral wash. It's not. The AMPTP is wrong. Just like they are wrong when they go after benefits for stage hands. Duh.
The same talking points were used against UAW workers in the agricultural implement industry in the 1980's. They were often the highest paid workers in their communities, and when they struck, their bosses successfully played the "spoiled" card to turn their neighbors against them. They lost those strikes, and wages in the region have never recovered. It's a basic lesson of the labor movement: what they can do to the highest paid or best organized, they can, and will, do to everyone else. As an aside, that's also why it was so jaw-droppingly ridiculous to read quotes in the papers from student activists who took part in the uprising in France against proposed youth labor market "reforms" attacking the recent transit strikes. Some of those same young activists who enjoyed labor union support in their confrontation with the previous Gaullist administration hit the Paris streets to demand that workers cave in to the current one.
Incidentally, when striking writers asked if they could participate in the "strike a deal!" rally, they were told that they weren't welcome. Read the comments.