Contract Expires; Was This Strike Inevitable?

by Paul William Tenny

Strike news doesn't seem to be carrying very well but I'll tell you something, you're going to start feeling it in about two months and you'll wonder why all your favorite shows stop airing new episodes, why every other program is either a rerun or a reality/sports program, and why it has to be this way. Coming from a person who knows, the truth is that it didn't have to be this way. The guy holding the line for the studios and networks has been doing this almost as long as I've been alive, and has never technically lost to the WGA or any other union in all that time (as far as I know) and fears them about as much as I fear your mom.

While the new WGA leadership has balls and is hellbent on picking up some gains for their guys during this round, they aren't exactly the brightest apples in the bunch. There is every possibility that had both sides played this like they actually did want a fair deal between themselves, such a deal would wouldn't have materialized anyway.

Consider that in a war of more significant consequences, it took a second nuclear bomb to force Japan to surrender in World War II. I don't think it's irresponsible to equate the two because what we're really talking about here are people waging war against each other that aren't really qualified to do so yet are equally as stubborn. This all could have been avoided had the WGA wilted under pressure as it has for much of the past two decades and simply accepted that they'll never be more than pawns in Hollywood from now until the end of time.

The studios could have given up their monumental quest for greed in which their CEO's are pulling in an average of $15-20 million per year, where their respective corporations are pulling in over $20 billion per year in revenue, yet are fighting to the death over payments that literally amount to less than five cents per writer, per DVD sale today. Writers want eight cents instead of four, in a situation where a single CEO could probably afford to cover that bump in residual payments himself out of his own pocket and not even notice a minor fluctuation in his bank account.

It is then perhaps a matter of simple principle. You've been pushed around for 20+ years, will you do anything to end the abuse? Or: you've been dominating the position for 20+ years, will you let the other side break the chains?

This was a strike I think was destined to happen, be it this year or nine years down the road, by the past failures of the writers guild not just to hold the line, but to threaten violence and come up empty - repeatedly. If you threaten to shoot somebody and don't do it, they are going to be less likely to crap their pants the next time you brandish a gun in their face.

Every time the threat is made and not carried through, the less force it has the next time, until eventually it has no weight at all. I think the guild is dangerously close to that point right now and to a degree this current fight is more about fighting back against a wife beater than it is bargaining over these very important issues.

The line has been crossed; the studios don't want to deal at all. They want what they want and if we don't cave, they'll just hold their breath, figuring their $20 billion in yearly revenue with $6 billion in profit will means their lungs are bigger than the writer's are. So I turn you over to The Artful Writer, Craig Mazen, who proposes these three possibilities now that a strike is certain:

First possibility: the AMPTP has already internally decided what their bottom line number is, and they will let the WGA and anyone else strike until they turn blue, but they’re not budging. If that’s their decision, then the die is cast here. Nothing left to do but go limp and enjoy the car crash.

Second possibility: the AMPTP is no longer interesting in bargaining with us (pick a reason, any reason). They’ll let us walk and turn to the DGA in order to find that magical number between .3 and 2.5. They’ll set the rate with the DGA, and then that will be that.

Third possibility: the AMPTP wants to bargain with us, but they want to soften us up a bit with a strike. Get us out on a line, then reel us back in with an offer that’s better than .3…..but not as good as we’d like. Much harder to walk away from money on the table, goes the theory.

Given how weak willed the DGA is, I think the second choice is far more likely than the others. I'm no expert on the matter but it makes the most sense from a business standpoint. They'll lose a ton of money going the first route and if the writers are as unified as they appear to be, they may not be able to last that long. A couple of really spectacular feature film failures could put many of the smaller players under significant pressure to get television back into production, not all of them can wait for next summer to save their bottom lines.

The third choice might be the second most likely yet it doesn't strike me as the chosen path with everything that has come before it. All actions by the AMPTP have stunk of pure teen rebellion and angst. They look and feel like people that are genuinely insulted when not everyone bows when they enter the room. They didn't give the writers a proposal such much as tried to dictate the results from day one, and didn't budge off that stance until two weeks before the deadline.

I truly am concerned that the directors who seem wholly disinterested in hard-nosed collective bargaining for gains will hamstring both WGA and SAG by going for the path of least resistance. If they make a new deal with the producers that amounts to what the producers are offering, say home-video numbers applied to new media, you  might as well dissolve both WGA and DGA. The former because the latter stabbed it in the back, the latter because it has no balls and is institutionally incapable of acting like real union.

The union with the real power here is SAG, but I fear their own negotiations may come too late to make any kind of difference. If WGA is still on strike by the time SAG decides it is willing to strike, there may not be any writers union left to strike with.
in Labor


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