Against the Current No. 227, November/
Auto: The Future on the Line
— The Editors
Catastrophe in Palestine and Israel: Apartheid on the Road to Genocide
— David Finkel
- Stand with Palestinian Workers
Parallel Fights Against Privatization
— Steve Early & Suzanne Gordon
- Guatemala: Coup Instead of an Inauguration?
- New Labor
Strategies for Union Victories
— Dianne Feeley
Writers Guild of America Wins
— Barry Eidlin interviews Alex O'Keefe & Howard A. Rodman
- The Struggle for Self-Determination
Ukrainian Letter of Solidarity with Palestine
— Commons -- Ukraine
On Imperialism Today
— Howie Hawkins
In Solidarity with People's Struggles
— Fourth International
Paths for Socialist Internationalism
— Promise Li
The Testing of America: Birmingham 1963
— Malik Miah
Echoes of Revolution
— Marc Becker
The Making of Capitalism
— Mike McCallister
Toward a "Transsexualized Marxism"
— M. Colleen McDaniel
A Primer on Abolition
— Kristian Williams
Barry Eidlin interviews Alex O'Keefe & Howard A. Rodman
Barry Eidlin: Welcome to Jacobin Radio [broadcast on October 4, 2023]. I’m your guest host Barry Eidlin, filling in today for your regular host, Suzi Weissman. Today, we’re digging into one of the most high profile labor struggles of this recent hot labor summer, the strike of more than 11,500 film and television screenwriters, members of the Writers Guild of America (WGA). On September 24th, after 148 days, the WGA negotiating committee announced a tentative agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), the association representing major studios and streamers. They voted unanimously to recommend the agreement. On Wednesday, September 27th, the strike was suspended and writers began returning to work. [On October 9th the contract was ratified. Ninety-five percent of the membership (8,525 ballots cast) voted overwhelmingly to approve the agreement, which runs until May 1, 2026.]
The WGA leadership noted, “This deal is exceptional, with meaningful gains and protections for writers in every sector of the membership.” Major media outlets agreed with The New York Times stating that the deal, gives Writer’s Guild most of what it wanted.” Industry publication Deadline noted, “Big gains for workers.” And a headline in The Hollywood Reporter said that, “Many writers see tentative deal as blueprint for Hollywood’s future.”
When the WGA released the terms of the new tentative agreement, it became clear that the deal did contain major gains for writers, better wages, and improved language on so-called residuals to ensure that writers keep getting paid as studios and streamers keep making money off their work through rebroadcasts.
We have two WGA leaders and activists who have been deeply involved in the contract fight and strike. Alex O’Keefe is a screenwriter and organizer from Gotha, Florida, and a rank-and-file member of the Writers Guild of America West. He helped spearhead the campaign for the Green New Deal and was a speechwriter for senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey. He has also written for FX’s The Bear.
Also with me is Howard A. Rodman. He is the past president of the Writers Guild of America West, a professor of screenwriting at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, a member of the National Film Preservation Board and an artistic director of the Sundance Screenwriting Labs. In 2021, he was elected a governor of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and in 2023, an Academy vice president. His notable writing credits include Savage Grace with Julianne Moore and Eddie Redmayne and starring Josh Hartnett and David Bowie. Most recently, he was a staff writer on the HBO Max series, The Idol, for director Sam Levinson and co-creator of The Weekend.
How are you feeling now after five months on the picket line?
Howard A. Rodman: It was like being hit on the head with a glorious two by four. Last night I went to the Palladium for the gathering of the Writers Guild of America West. They presented the contract to the membership in this very large crowd. All of a sudden the poignancy, the sense of joy, and the visible manifestation of solidarity that was present crept in and I started to cry.
Alex O’Keefe: My entire life, and especially my career, was uprooted by this strike. It’s a sacrifice, a necessary sacrifice. And writers like me just got our foot in the door. That sacrifice hits us the hardest. I mean, I have $63 in my bank account. I didn’t know how I was going to keep going. The strike had gone on so long, it felt like as if it would never end.
Actually I knew it would end in our victory but emotionally it felt like it would never end. I was just focusing on how I might have to shift careers or leave LA and live somewhere cheaper. I wanted to do whatever I could to continue the strike by making a more consistent income.
The Feel of Victory
I almost didn’t believe the headlines until I got the agreement. And when I read through the terms, I was shocked at how much we won. We won for writers of every sector and we won for rank and file writers like myself. You know, I was a staff writer on The Bear. In our previous contract, staff writers were paid a weekly rate. If we were assigned to write an episode, we wouldn’t get the script fee that writers normally receive, but with our new contract, we will.
Now we’ll get a share in the success of our streaming shows. The Guild will receive data of how many people are viewing our shows. That’s pretty essential to determine the value of our labor. And the biggest thing that emerged during the strike — and no one knew quite how important it would be — is that we set a new standard on AI and automation.
The strike will affect many coming labor battles, certainly in Hollywood. But also across America, even across the world, because we ensured that AI is not going to replace screenwriters.
If we did not win we would have been replaced in three years. They still might try to screw around with us — you can’t trust them. A contract is only as powerful as your enforcement is. It’s up to all the members and the Guild to enforce this contract’s gains.
This is an historic contract, a new deal for Hollywood. We’ve seen the extinction of writing across journalism and new media. Those tech bros were coming for us next. And we didn’t let them. We put our foot down. They said it was an impossible fight, yet we beat them.
BE: What were the issues that drove writers to strike in the first place? I know Alex that you’re a writer on a very successful show. Many people think that would put you in a better position than a lot of other writers, but you were still struggling. What was facing Hollywood writers leading up to the strike?
HR: The change in the business model, from studios and networks to the streaming world, has broken.
If it’s not fixed, writers will not have careers, only gigs. If it’s not fixed, the thread that was handed down to us from the previous generation — that says you can make a living as a writer — would have snapped. What we said was, “No, not on our watch. That’s not going to happen.” I always knew that we would win because when we hold together, we win. But I didn’t know how long it would take.
AO: For my generation, it’s the contradictions of Hollywood that became too extreme. When you’re writing your sample script, when you’re trying to break into the Guild, the mirage of Hollywood is just a little bit far away. You think, if I could just get that dream job, I’d be secure, I won’t have to worry, I won’t have to take other jobs.
You know you have to hustle to make it, but you feel that once you make it, then at least you’ll have a good union job, you’ll be protected. I pursued Hollywood not to become some famous filmmaker, but because I’m from poverty and I’m a writer. I thought this is the one place where I could apply my craft at a high level, raise a family and have a middle-class life.
I got very lucky. My first professional gig was The Bear. I got hired because they were looking for a new voice and didn’t think it was going to be a big show. If they had realized that, they probably would have hired a more experienced writer.
There’s a lot of new voices in Hollywood right now: people of color, women, people from the working class. We are seeing a boom. I always imagined in watching TV, like any fan, that this creative boom was matched with a boom of valuing workers.
It wasn’t a ton of money to be a staff writer, but I thought, “This is it for me. I guess I’ve made it.” And when you’re in Hollywood, you’re always searching for that moment. Once you actually work the job, you realize, no, it’s just another job, it’s just another gig. The studios don’t incentivize you to make great art, they incentivize you to make content.
Even if you make something like The Bear, you don’t really get a fair share in the profits. What blew my mind was that all the top showrunners and lead actors were not getting their fair share in their streaming shows.
I wrote for The Bear from my tiny Brooklyn apartment. It was a pandemic winter. They didn’t fly me out to the writers’ room, but I was lucky enough to get in the room and be on Zoom. I’d plug in my space heater and it would knock out all the power. I worked on the last episode from a public library.
The nightmarish conditions radicalized us because we knew there was value in Hollywood. We were not going to believe that Hollywood was broke. We no longer believed if you pulled yourself up by your bootstraps, if you were innovative and hardworking, you’ll make it. Even if you get lucky, like me, it’s no security.
We realized they’re not producing value by making great product but by downsizing. We have to fundamentally shift that trajectory in America to rebuild the middle class and also democratize our workplaces.
Our last strike occurred when George W. Bush was president. Now we are in a friendlier labor culture since [Amazon organizer] Chris Smalls, since the pandemic. There is especially youth organizing in the labor movement. It’s unionizing Starbucks and Trader Joe’s. And that has rippled into Hollywood, where this is a youthful, more militant labor force.
Once you pull down that curtain, you no longer believe in the glitzy glamour of it all. You realize that your power comes from your truth. Your power comes from talking to your co-workers about what’s going on in your life, what’s really going on in the workplace.
What Writers Want
BE: What are some of the concrete contract provisions in this new tentative agreement? How do these compare to what the studios were trying to get you to accept initially.
HR: When we started this strike on May 1st, the studios were offering writers $86 million a year. The tentative agreement is two and a half times as much, at $233 million. We got 5%, 4% and 3.5% raises on minimums. And given that 50% of the Guild works for minimums, that’s significant and it’s cumulative.
We got more money for made for TV programs. Feature writers under certain conditions are guaranteed a two-step deal rather than a one-step deal.
BE: What’s a two-step deal?
HR: A screenwriter is paid for a draft. This made sense in an era where it was written in longhand and then somebody typed it up. For decades this has not been a great metric for compensating screenwriting work, but when I started, you would get two- or three-step deals. This meant you did a draft, received notes from the producers and studios and be paid for another draft. Sometimes that would repeat for a third time.
So you got the benefit of their input and the opportunity to be paid for two or possibly three drafts. Starting in 2010, they started switching to one-step deals. But the amount of work didn’t decrease. You got notes and then they gave you more notes so you would do as much work for a one-step deal but were paid about 40% less.
The initiation of a one-step deal guaranteed a wild exploitation of your time with mandated free work. It was essential. And it’s even more essential because for a long time screenwriters have feared this is a union of television writers. When push comes to shove, our needs will just be sacrificed for the greater good of the television writers’ agenda.
What happened was that there were gains for all sectors of the writing community for screenwriters, for comedy variety writers, for staff writers. That’s powerful and quietly triumphant.
BE: What about residuals?
HR: As a result of the 1960 strike — the last strike when writers and actors were both on strike — we won residuals, meaning payment for reuse. It started when theatrical screenwriters found their movies were being shown on TV. It took a long and devastating strike for TV producers to agree. Studios hate paying residuals. As one of the people on the other side who shall remain anonymous said, “I don’t pay my plumber every time I flush my toilet.”
While president of the Guild, I was on maybe five negotiating committees. By the 2007-08 strike we were able to establish jurisdiction over residuals. We were willing to take a cruddy residual formula just to get a foot in the door. Over the years it’s improved a little bit. But streaming residuals have fallen far, far behind the residuals in theatrical [movies] and in series [writing for network/cable TV].
If you’re a screenwriter and make a movie for theatrical distribution, you get one set of payments. But if that movie doesn’t get streamed, you get far less for its reuse.
We wanted to remedy that — and we did. And we did it for programs with a budget of $30 million or more. This covers most things on Streaming Video On Demand (ACOD). For video on demand, we got an 18% increase on initial compensation, with a 26% increase in the residual base. Over three years this amounts to an average $216,000 for screening projects.
AO: Writers like myself, on the most precarious edge of the business, haven’t fully established ourselves. The new provisions of the contract with screenwriting rooms are often the best way to get experience and a steady job where you get paid every two weeks.
Since the rise of streaming, there’s been a mini-room or development-room where you can write a whole season of TV and it never even airs. They would have fewer writers doing more work over a shorter time period and for less pay.
Now for the first time ever in the contract there’s a minimum for how many writers constitutes a writers’ room, which is based on its purpose. Just establishing that is huge for future organizing.
Before they found all these different ways to bypass regulations that protect writers. In the tentative agreement you can’t just have one writer in the room. And then there was an AI doing the work of six different writers. Now we have established what a showrunner is, what a writers’ room is, and minimum staffing levels. That is going to be a generational shift in television writing.
HR: I want to tell you why writers’ rooms are so important. My dad was a TV writer in a very different era. He wrote on shows like Naked City and Route 66. A season was 39 episodes of hour-long dramas. There were writers’ rooms for comedy, but not for drama.
Drama writing in the early 1960s was done by one or two guys — and I say guys because they were mostly guys — who sat in a room and wrote their own scripts or rewrote scripts that came in from a pool of freelance writers. They were responsible for 39 hours of television a year. By comparison, 39 hours is equivalent to the first three or four seasons of Succession.
There was no hiatus because by the time you finished with a season, the next season was right there at your throats. And because there was no writers’ room, they had to stay up all night again and again.
My father worked through two minor heart attacks because there were no other shoulders to carry the load. There was only him and a guy named Stirling Silliphant. They had no alternative but to work through injuries.
My dad died of heart disease at age 65. Had there been writers’ rooms in those days, he might have lived to see three grandchildren. He might have lived to see all of us live and blossom and have the lives that we have now. Having the regulation around staffing isn’t just something that’s nice, it creates careers and also preserves the quality and sometimes the quantity of human life.
Confronting the AI Beast
BE: I think it’s important to let our listeners know what the language says about artificial intelligence and how the contract is going to protect writers.
AO: We saved our craft from the machines. It really was humanity versus the machines. And it shows the degradation of our relationship with the executives and power brokers and CEOs that they stopped seeing what we do as an art and start seeing us as coders. They come from tech. Why don’t we code better shows?
Why don’t we feed all The Bear episodes in and then we can write its episodes for generations to come. People could request their own custom season of The Bear.
They wanted to erase all authorship. They wanted to be able to feed our scripts into a generative AI to replace us. And if we allowed that to happen, then as I got older there would be no Guild, no long-term vision.
Did they think that this strike was going to land the blow to break the union? It might not have broken apart after this strike, but if they were able to win AI for both writers and actors, we wouldn’t have had a union in 10 years. Machines would have been able to steal our copyrighted work, our art forms, our souls. It would have delegitimized our entire craft.
I am so impressed by the level of regulation we’ve won. This is so new that so many other members of the labor and progressive movements were looking to the Writers Guild and our amazing research department to figure out how to regulate AI to save jobs in the long term. So I’m very proud of these provisions.
HR: Alex is absolutely right; the studios see what we do as content. When Warner Bros. Discovery CEO speaks, he speaks of his IPs [Intellectual Properties].
Their larger aim is not unlike the way William Burroughs described the economics of the heroin trade: Don’t improve the product, degrade the buyer.
What we won was not an easy win. It was among the very, very last things talked about in the very last two days of negotiation. The writer is not splitting credit with a machine. They can’t give you some machine-written thing and then say, “Oh, you’re the rewriter on that.”
Instead, under the MBA writers [Minimum Basic Agreement, i.e., their contract], if they wish, can elect to use AI when performing writing services. But the company cannot require you to use software. If any material given to you has been generated by AI or incorporates any AI-generated material, they must tell you. Most importantly, our job is not to train AI. In other words, don’t scrape our scripts to have a machine, create shittier versions of our scripts.
When talks broke off on May 1st, studios were only offering to meet with us once a year to chat about technology. That was as far as they would go on AI.
When I look at the provisions that we have, it’s not perfect. But there are the most essential guardrails around the kind of abuse they were gleefully contemplating when they offered us a once a year sit chat.
AO: AI is a beast. It’s going to continue to evolve because that’s what it does. Even what we’re calling AI is not true AI. But I believe in my lifetime we’re going to see AI become extremely sophisticated, far more ChatGPT will look like Geocities compared to what we’re going to look at in the future. So this is going to be a long-term battle. The struggle against automation and AI will be in contract battle after contract battle.
At the beginning of the contract battle, AI was one of the last provisions to make it into the list of demands. That was because it seemed, even earlier this year, before ChatGPT and Midjourney and Dall-E mini, it seemed far away. Actually I’d written a script about AI in Hollywood that was set in the not too distant future. And then all of a sudden it was just here.
I think all of us were shocked at how quickly and sophisticated AI was at scraping copyrighted art for its own purposes, reproducing without crediting or paying artists. So there is going to be a lot more to do.
It can’t just be the labor unions fighting against this. This is intellectual property, right? But it’s different if it’s our labor power. I’m sure that they also want to replace truck drivers with artificial technology that drives trucks.
This is going to be a fight across every sector of the labor movement. What we won was the first guardrails. Every fight afterwards, from UAW to the Teamsters can build upon it. We can’t stop here. But this is an incredible start to the movement to save humanity in the workplace.
HR: That’s why it’s important to have language about AI in this contract. It was only in 2008 that we finally got jurisdiction over new media, which represented a change in technology. In turn, AI will cause change in the business model.
In 2008 the studios said, “Oh, this new thing; it doesn’t make money for us. We don’t have a business model for it, don’t worry about it.” We said, “No, actually we’re not stupid, we’re worrying about it.”
We got jurisdiction over the Internet, over streaming in 2008, and now we have jurisdiction over AI. Both are of equal and systemic importance.
But it’s not just for writers. Imagine what AI can do to the careers of actors and then beyond the entertainment industry. Do we want trucks driven by computers? It is vitally important that we set a precedent over our labor power and the ability to withhold. I hope this will not be just widely used but widely improved upon.
BE: Beyond the black and white of the contract language, what are the broader gains you see coming from the strike?
HR: Just this morning, I was in correspondence with somebody who said, “Let’s take the lesson of this strike and just say no more free rides. If somebody asks me to do a free pass on a screenplay, I’m not going to do it.”
It was a kind of “I am Spartacus” moment when we realized that when we hold together, we win. When we hold the line, they have to step back. We are newly emboldened by what we learned about the power of the community of writers in this strike. We can build upon that not just in terms of what’s in the contract language, but in terms of our daily work lives.
“No, I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more. No, I’m not going to do that work for free. No, that’s not what writers do. It’s your job to pay us for that.” There’s going to be a wild expansion of that attitude in many large and small corners in our daily lives as writers.
AO: The strike is about money. It’s about surviving, but it’s also about respect. When you hear your employers say that their strategy is to leave you homeless you understand their game plan. These CEOs are not our friends.
They would like to destroy us. The only reason they didn’t is because we banded together in solidarity across race and class and gender and ideology. We have a new level of self-respect. We’re not going to accept loopholes and degrading working conditions.
There’s a Hollywood labor movement now. You hear Lindsay, daughter of the Teamsters and the firebrands, people like me, who was just some guy. There’s dozens of strike captains, who have held the line and are now involved in the Guild.
There’s new organizing across Hollywood. The Marvel workers have unionized. I just spoke with production assistants planning to unionize. We see ourselves as the agents of our own destiny. We no longer in misery. Misery is a word for what we can’t change. There is nothing that empowers and raises the consciousness quite like winning and winning big. So this huge victory, at least for my generation.
There’s going to be issues that we can’t even predict right now. Just like in 2007, they couldn’t have predicted AI would be a major issue with this strike. So we have to stay organized.
We need to see Hollywood unions not as a service to keep our health insurance but as a commitment to co-workers. When you are abused, harassed or exploited, you have a place to go. But the union is only as powerful as the power you put into it. Now we see that’s a consciousness that you cannot erase, especially with this huge win we’re celebrating.
Energy and Persistence
BE: Building on what you’re saying, Alex, I was able to make it out to the picket line several times. What really struck me were the high levels of participation and energy I saw on the picket lines, even months into the strike. As a labor scholar, I find as strikes stretch out, they often settle into a kind of routine. The energy level drops, it becomes just a few people around a fire barrel. That was not the case when it came to this strike. Why was that?
AO: You have to credit the strike captains. Dozens of strike captains, many young, who kept people motivated and informed. They knew the issues at hand. One amazing innovation was the themed pickets that made it a party. There was a Beyonce picket, there were reunion pickets of The Simpsons.
So the picket wasn’t just a walk around or even a place to talk about our grievances. It was let’s celebrate who we are. We’re writers. We’re storytellers. We’re the culture makers. The picket was a site of catharsis and celebration that I could have never imagined.
You wanted to go to the picket to see your friend or check out Abbott Elementary doing a picket with the teachers’ union (UTLA). The creativity of our union was unleashed on the picket line. That kept people like me coming because we needed that community.
BE: The K-pop picket line I went to at Amazon was great.
HR: When the AMPTP made the cold, callous, calculating decision to spend 100 days away from the negotiating table in hopes that we would soften, they were willing to cause pain and suffering and devastation for tens of thousands of human beings.
It’s like Harry Lime in The Third Man, gazing down at humanity from the heights of a Ferris wheel over Vienna saying, “Look down there. Tell me, would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you £20,000 for every dot that stopped, would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money? Or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spare?” That was their philosophy.
We knew it and we felt it. If part of the reason we went back to picket was because it was a lot of fun, another part was that we were not about to let them cause all of that pain, suffering and misery to us, to our communities. We were going to show them that for every day we were on the picket line, as the slogan says, we were able to go one day longer.
AO: You can see I have a broken tooth. It looks like I’ve been in a fight. And I have been. I’ve been in a 12-round boxing match; I’ve been beaten down. They bet that if they beat down writers like me, poor and broke staff writers, we would break the strike, but it did the opposite. Round after round, I just went back in there and kept fighting.
I felt I could be homeless, begging for change, and still be on strike until we beat the studio and get our money back. At a certain point you can’t break the spirit and that certain fire was ignited early. The more they tried to break us, the more they were unmasked. The more we saw how little respect they had for us, the more self-respect we had for ourselves.
You can’t win a fight against somebody who has nothing to lose. I knew that a career under their terms would be no kind of career at all. The only way for us to have a future is if we built it. These people are burning Hollywood to the ground.
Saving the Industry
We had to save the industry from itself, from the power brokers who had completely lost the thread. We’re storytellers. We’re able to find the thread and tell the next chapter. We had to write it for them, unfortunately. And it was a hard writing process. And with no notes, 100% no notes!
HR: I’ve been in the Guild since 1988-89, and I’ve had the good fortune to be working most every year of those years. I’m now on a Writers Guild pension, which is delicious, and it gives me the assurance that I don’t have to scramble for jobs that I don’t want.
Last year, I took a job as a staff writer. I was getting $5,185 a week for six weeks on a show with a budget of $18 million an episode. Compare those two figures. That’s what they think writing is worth.
BE: How much were you paid?
HR: $5,185 a week, which went up to something like $5,300 something after May 1st. It’s fine if you’re getting it every week, 52 weeks a year. But not when you’re getting it six weeks a year.
AO: When I first got the call for The Bear and was going to get $46,000 I was like “Wow.” But then you realize its nine weeks and you have to pay your manager out of that as well. It sounds like a lot but it’s not. That’s why residuals are so important, that’s why having minimum staffing is so important. That’s the only way to make this a consistent job.
BE: Given how much disrespect the studios were showing you and how much they were digging in their heels to starve you out, why do you think they decided to settle now? What made them come back to the table and agree to a deal?
HR: The fact that we weren’t going to stop and they knew it.
AO: Over the last month of the strike there was a concerted campaign among some elites in Hollywood to break our will. I heard whisper campaigns about myself. I think Matt Belloni, a Hollywood reporter and a former editor, tried to blacklist me.
There were agents in people’s ears saying, “Hey, get back to work.” I think people like Drew Barrymore fell for it and tried to bring back her show. Bill Maher tried to bring back his show too. We came picketed the hell out of those shows and we shut them down. I guess we needed to give them one last example of our power as America’s sweetheart tried to scab. We were not going to let that happen.
I don’t know what happened in the negotiating room, but I saw that the attempt to break the union just emboldened people. We showed that the more you try to push us, the harder we push back — and we can push back a lot harder than the 1%. We have the numbers. We produce the value.
Eventually they had to admit that because at the end of the day, they need money. They can try to say, “We’re saving so much money because we’re not producing anything.” That doesn’t mean much to shareholders. Their stocks were in the tank; investors were pissed off.
Ultimately like any other business, you need to keep producing. They had to get a reality check. Eventually they couldn’t continue to live in la la land. Workers have the power.
HR: Absolutely. That’s like McDonald’s saying, “Look how much money we’re saving by not buying any beef patties.” At a certain point they’ve got to sell something.
I would hope that the victory in our leaving no sector of our union behind helps SAG-AFTRA achieve a contract that addresses their needs as this one addresses ours. We are helping the labor movement realize something: when we hold the line, we win. Workers have to receive a just and proportionate share of the wealth that our labor creates. Without that we don’t work. And without that, they don’t work.
Nobody Left Behind
BE: This is far from the end of the labor struggles that are going on in Hollywood right now. We’ve still got the SAG-AFTRA TV and film actors on strike. It looks like the video game voice motion stunt actors could be joining them very soon — they had a 98% strike authorization vote. And then as Alex noted, a lot of the invisible workers who make all of Hollywood run, represented by the Teamsters and IATSE, are negotiating their contracts next year.
HR: The winds are at our back internationally, nationally and in this town. I would hope that SAG-AFTRA would see what we did as something to build upon, not as a one off. I would love to be in a position where three years from now, when we’re negotiating our next contract, we are trying to incorporate some of the gains that they have gained in the interim.
This 2023 strike came out of a decade or more of union organizing. But for a long time, various sectors of the Guild thought the pattern of demands was tilted toward the wealthiest showrunners. The thinking went that if they get what they wanted, something might trickle down to the rest of us.
In this negotiation, we said “Nobody gets left behind.” Unless there’s something for comedy variety writers, daytime writers, writers of theatrical features, writing teams, and staff writers, then all of us will keep picketing.
At first some members didn’t quite believe it. Who would be thrown under the bus at the end of the day? And certainly the bosses didn’t believe it because they’ve never seen that from us before. They’d always thought, “Okay, we’ll give them this and then we don’t have to give them anything else.” This time they did have to come up with everything.
We just kept walking the line. And the enthusiasm of the line on the very last day of the strike was no smaller or less enthusiastic than on the very first day.
At a certain point Wall Street just told the studios to shut up and make a deal. Or maybe they were able to iron out their differences. They do have very different business models so what’s good for Sony is bad for Netflix.
For whatever reasons, they were able to give us what we needed. Do we need to build on it? Absolutely.
Do other unions need to take the ball we’re going to hand them and run with it? Yep. Will they do that with our fullest support? Yep. This strike feels like the beginning of a story and not the end of one.
November-December 2023, ATC 227