Stage to the Streets in a Tough Strike


Pearl River      You gotta love it, the “Nanny” is now starring in “Fist.”  What? You have trouble seeing Fran Drescher in the Jimmy Hoffa role?  It’s easier to see than to remember that it was Ronald Reagan in that role the last time actors hit the bricks.

AFTRA/SAG and its 140,000 members are now on strike, joining the tens of thousands of writers with the Guild that have been out for weeks.  Some of these union members are used to the public eye on the A-list, so they are a not a bunch of guys in brown short pants jumping off a box truck, but folks who can walk the picket line with professionally done makeup and hair and the latest fashions.

Unfortunately, the stars are the exception in this industry, not the rule.  Hollywood is a dream machine, and they have sold that vision on all of our screens, but it obscures the real work and lives of most of the people who make product.  This is a different kind of union from what many members of the public would see as a different kind of worker.  New Orleans had years when we were subsidizing the film industry, so we could often see what it was like up close and personal.  Maybe too close, when we moved out of our house for a couple of days some years before the pandemic for a film being made for showing on TV in the Kerala region of India.  A lot of people are put to work for a very short period of time.  Luckily, most are in unions, and the film industry is one of the most unionized in the private sector.  It’s boom-and-bust and constant hustle in many of these jobs, including the actors, since the vast number are way down from the line from Hanks, Cruise, Streep, and the top dogs.

This strike is what solidarity looks like, but in a global industry, sometimes the solidarity is more talk than action.  Movies and television are no longer as LA-centric as they once were, and that’s part of what is driving the desperation that lies behind the overwhelming support of the members for this kind of job action.  Netflix is reportedly building a $2.5 set of studios in South Korea.  They are all working still.  HBO’s “House of Dragons” is filming in the UK, where members are part of the Actors’ Equity union, which means they are all working still.  Equity has put out press releases supporting the US-based actors, but that doesn’t win a strike, especially one where the issues are also universal.

Can they win?  This is a tough one.  Many have already stopped going to movie theaters, so a boycott there won’t win it.  The issues that focus on internet streaming and artificial intelligence and their impact on jobs are critical for the workers, but that doesn’t mean that people aren’t going to be watching Amazon, Netflix, HBO, and the rest at home, even while we support the strikers.  The industry reports claim they are throwing money at the strike.  I read one offer was a 76% bump, which sounds pretty good to most workers trying to sort this out.  As viewers, we never understood how many workers were in a writers’ room, or thought we had a say in the number of episodes, much less something like residuals, which have been clobbered by the internet.  Musicians and singers have made the same case about having to tour constantly to make their money, because they make pennies on replays from streaming.   Frankly, when it comes to issues around artificial intelligence, who knows where that stuff is going to end up?

These folks aren’t Luddites, but a lot of the issues in these strikes are in the face of technology and huge changes in industry business models, forcing the unions into a fight that maybe directed there, but indirectly is fighting the tastes and practices of the public which has deserted the old mediums for the new.

There’s no question that we all need to support these strikers, but let’s be honest, they are on the street in a tough struggle that is going to be hard to win.