By: David Seddon
August 21st, 2023
The Current isn’t a stranger to covering issues surrounding TV shows, or movies; however, at the time of writing, America is, perhaps, going through one of the biggest writing issues of the last ten years. The Writers Guild of America – a union representing thousands of professional writers from many fields – is on strike. They are in conflict with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers – commonly shortened to the AMPTP – which represents some of the biggest platforms for shows right now, including Netflix, Disney, Sony and others.
The strike was officially announced on May 1, 2023, and started on the 2nd. Over three months later, the strike is still continuing, and it looks like it might keep going for a while yet. In fact, since the writers first went on strike, the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists also went on strike in mid July, 2023. These two strikes combined have forced a halt to many ongoing Hollywood productions.
This situation might make many people ask what caused the strike. One of the largest points for the writers is the issue of payment. Essentially, under the previous contract, writers didn’t make any portion of the money that a show might make through being streamed online, which could leave them struggling even as a show they worked on raked in millions upon millions of dollars. Another issue which came up was studios potentially using AI to mimic writers.
The reasons for the SAG AFTRA strike are similar to the WGA’s, namely in that residual payments and the use of AI arose in their discussions with the studios as well.
To remedy these issues, Writers and Actors want to be paid more, to offset the losses from inflation, more residuals from works that go to streaming, and set contracts that limit the use of AI going forward. These demands, all things considered, aren’t unreasonable. A lot of these people just want to make enough money doing what they love to feel financially secure, especially during a time when their employers are making billions each year.
The AMPTP’s response to the strikes, has reportedly, been less than friendly. An article on Deadline reported that the studios were going to wait until “union members start losing their apartments and losing their houses.” Afterwards, some studios trimmed the trees where a SAG AFTRA picket line was going to be, meaning that the strikers would have to be out in 90 degree weather with no shade. Though the AMPTP has denied that the quotes in the aforementioned article reflect their position, and, likewise, they’ve denied that trimming the trees was an attempt to limit the strikers ability to act.
It may be hard for many to believe the studios on this one, given the history of how big companies have handled strikes in the past. Striking has had a long history in the US, going back over a hundred years, though it has been less than ideal for the workers. Historically, big companies have brought in private ‘security’ groups, like the Pinkertons, or even the US Military, to try and stop unionization. This resulted in bloody, and deadly, fights between the workers who wanted better conditions, and the forces paid to put them down.
In 1935 the US passed the National Labor Relations Act, and this gave workers the legal right to engage in strikes over unfair conditions. This has done a lot to help reduce the battle-like gun fights that took place before, thankfully, but things were hardly smoothed over after that.
Perhaps, one of the biggest anti-union actions after the passing of the NLRA was also done by the US Government. In 1981, then president Ronald Reagan fired over 10,000 striking air-traffic controllers. This event would quickly kill the union they had been represented under, and it had repercussions which lasted for decades.
Even as recent as 2019, there was evidence that bosses broke the law in over 40% of union votes, at least according to a report by the Economic Policy Institute. Not only that, but the Pinkerton’s are still getting work surveilling workers, though now from companies like Google and Facebook. Some companies even try to push through legislation which would undermine the rights of their workers.
Given all of this history, it can feel more likely that the AMPTP is engaging in just more anti-worker action, than these things being unfortunate accidents, or anything else. Though, of course, only the members of the AMPTP can know what exactly they’re thinking. Nor does history always perfectly repeat itself.
While the history of organized labor can be a depressing read-through, sometimes it can be inspiring as well. In 1937, auto workers in Flint Michigan organized a sit-down strike, which ended up getting them a 300% pay increase. In an age where seemingly more people than ever struggle to afford living in America, events like these can remind them that there are actions that they can personally take to better their lives.
Unions, historically, have been the spearhead that have given workers benefits that we enjoy today. Things like the two day weekend, minimum wage, and limits on how many hours you can work a day might very well not exist without Unions fighting for them. And strikes are a critical tool for Unions to get anything done. No matter the history, it is vitally important for workers to fight for their rights, not just for themselves, but for everyone.
The AMPTP and WGA have already met up to continue negotiations, and even though the talks haven’t seemed to have gone the way the strikers wanted them to. Still, this seems like a good sign, and talks might start happening at more regular intervals. Perhaps, it might not be too long until the two groups can reach an agreement that everyone is happy with, and work in Hollywood can continue.
David Seddon is a senior undergraduate student with a major in professional and public writing and a minor in Chinese. A big fan of fantasy and sci-fi, David can often be found playing games, reading books or working on his own self-published books in his free time.