By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Last week, the head of Teamster Local 399, Leo Reed, expressed his own displeasure with the writers and actors, along with a hint that his union might not honor WGA and SAG/AFTRA picket lines. Reed's claim earned him front-page space in an L.A. Times lead article, which saw the Teamos' lack of solidarity as proof of a strike's untenability. What was not said in the Times' admiring coverage was that Local 399 and IATSE could not break a strike even if they wanted to, because the Teamsters can't write screenplays and I.A. members won't try their hand at acting. Without scripts and casts, these uninvolved unions won't have the opportunity to cross picket lines -- there will be no work to go to.
IV. MOGULS ON BOTH SIDES OF THE TABLE?
"Just wait till we join the Authors' League, comrades!" Sammy shouted. "Then all us downtrodden writers can become producers and we'll punish the producers by making them get down on their hands and knees -- and write!"
What Makes Sammy Run?
The WGA has no illusions about who it's talking to across the table: Big Money. Big Anti-Union Money. Big Anti-Union Entertainment Conglomerate Money. This contract, in fact, marks the first time in the guild's history that most of the studios with which it is negotiating are owned by corporations that also own television networks. The sheer size of the new media behemoths has given speed to rumors that not only can they withstand a strike, but that they might be better off with one that would give them the pretext to dump unprofitable projects -- or divest themselves completely of the risky business of moviemaking.
Historian Gerald Horne (Class Struggle in Hollywood 1930Â1950) dismisses these notions as part of a P.R. smoke screen. "While it is true that moviemaking's contribution has shrunk in importance to these conglomerates," Horne says, "the moguls are whistling past the graveyard when they say they can absorb a strike."
But a Hollywood in which megacorporations maintain interests in publishing, TV, music and film means that moguls must beat back the WGA's attempts to get their various subsidiaries to pay equal amounts in residuals to writers. This is why Rupert Murdoch would not be happy about a contract in which he can no longer sell an X-Files episode from his Fox TV network to his Fox Family cable network for a nominal sum and then not have to pay later residuals. Or why Disney's Robert Iger will not take kindly to having to pony up residuals for every show that ABC sells to the Disney Channel, its sister cable network.
And this is also why the writers cannot doubt the visceral antipathy of their opponents toward organized labor. Although it's been three years since Iger, as head of Disney subsidiary ABC Television, ordered a lockout of 2,700 members of the Communications Workers of America and the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians, it was only this past January that Murdoch was celebrating a National Labor Relations Board victory over the Newspaper Guild in the case of a Murdoch subsidiary that had acquired the assets of the New York Post Company from yet another subsidiary.
This is the immediate legacy of the Federal Communication Commission's Telecommunications Act of 1996, which removed the old barriers standing in the way of information monopolies. After deregulation, Viacom Entertainment Group swallowed up CBS, MTV, Nickelodeon, VH1, BET, Paramount Pictures, Infinity Broadcasting, UPN, the National Network, Country Music Television, Showtime, Blockbuster and Simon & Schuster, while Disney could boast of owning ABC Inc., the Disney Channel, Buena Vista Entertainment and both Lyric Street and Mammoth records, not to mention Anaheim Sports Inc., the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and the Anaheim Angels.
Ironically, the lament one sometimes hears among writers is not over the presence of such tycoons at the bargaining table, but over the absence of someone like Lew Wasserman, the Ur-mogul who co-founded MCA. In the old days, they say, Wasserman could knock heads during an impasse and order his side to compromise on a key point and eventually sign a contract. But the studio negotiating team, while containing titanic wealth and egos, has no such father figure to push the talks forward whenever the individual interests of the negotiators begin to rub up against one another.
"I don't think you can be contemptuous enough about how Hollywood conducts labor negotiations," Gross observes. "One side is greedy beyond all conceptualizing. The WGA is so self-deluding about its role that it requires a satirist like Waugh or Nabokov to capture it." Ã¢
Only by distinguishing themselves from the studio moguls can the writers gain the sympathy that most Americans reflexively feel for underdogs. But that might be tricky: Within the WGA many union members not only write and direct, but may also produce their own television shows. In most other labor situations, being any kind of producer with hiring and firing power makes the individual "management" and ineligible for union membership; in the new Hollywood, many men and women are professional hyphenates who not only invest money in projects and share in their profits, but, in the case of the present talks, also lead their unions in negotiations.