Right to revolt: or, classism’s part in the Writers’ Strike

The Writers’ Guild of America Strike was, in general, successful. While they didn’t get deals they could have secured with short-term bargaining from executives, they got what they desired in the long run: a new cut of the cash from digital distribution and residuals. These, argued writers, are necessary income for the nature of their work — it can tend to be on a freelance basis and residual income keeps them afloat during unemployment.Labor-Movement-1

The strike was unifying, too. All 12,000 members of the WGA participated, and countless others in the industry (mostly actors) stood by them and picketed alongside them.

It was dubbed the “first significant 21st century strike” (27) by those fighting in the US labor movement, as they were “eager to demonstrate that unions retain some relevance in a white-collar industry like screenwriting.” (27) Strikers themselves were eager to use imagery reminiscent of the blue-collar labor movement — such as the “picket line chic” (xiii) dress code of red WGA shirts and caps, as well as jeans and sneakers. While preparing for the strike, clothing and picketing materials were ordered, “some designed with iconography that evoked the great organized labor battles of the 1930s and ’40s.” (75)

Are no-collar workers entitled to the ethos of the blue-collar labor movement? Are they entitled to this if they don’t see their work as labor much of the time?Writers-strike

To hearken back to last week’s reading, No-Collar, here’s a passage in which Corinna Snyder, a middle manager at Razorfish, explains the mindset behind many of the company’s workers.

“She explained that the fish ‘don’t understand themselves as laborers. Some of them understand a portion of their work as being like labor, but as imaginative, creative, problem-solving labor. Yet it is not considered creative work if it’s labored. The term implies a hierarchy that they don’t like to be aware of.'” (Ross, 31)

The writers striking were fighting for a basic need: pay for work. And they are indeed members of a union (the reason they were able to put on a unified strike in the first place). But I think they were quick to align themselves with blue-collar ideals for striking. While the Teamsters carried out physical labor (and respected/did not cross picket lines), I would have been interested to hear more about perspectives on “labor” during the strike. Strikes during the 1930s and ’40s, by which the WGA strike drew inspiration, were mostly by factory workers, longshoremen, etc.

Also: while these earlier labor movements included pockets of minorities trying to improve their conditions within the unions,77833621 you read nothing in this book about people of color. Screenwriting is a whitewashed industry, as well as one largely absent of women. This is interesting because while I recall Mindy Kaling discussing in her memoir Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? that she was the only woman in The Office‘s writer’s room for some time (as well as, I believe, the only person of color). But she was enthusiastic about being on strike, as detailed by several pieced together blog posts (that I can only find bits of now).

Final thoughts (stealing this format from Josh): while I was happy with this comprehensive history of the strike, I wish it had been a little more critical of its inspirations and history.

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