The Guild Strikes Back – The Writer’s Guild of America and Their Duty to Organized Labor

The writer’s strike of 2007 is one of the most discussed labor movements of the last 50 years. Why wouldn’t it be? Television has become such an integral part of the daily routine for millions of people around the nation, and the strike did so much to impact that routine.

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Do you see the problem with that opening? Think for a second what it might be, but only a second, and then I’ll tell you.

Ready? Here it is: I just framed the writer’s strike as an issue of the general population of America and their television habits. It might even be fair to say that’s how most talk of the strike was categorized; a hiccup in the television world but don’t worry, your shows will be back soon. That’s pretty typical of a late-stage capitalist country like the United States and their mainstream media. Of course they would want you to think like that. They’re the ones who benefit when you say “I was so engrossed in this season of “Scrubs”, how could they strike now?” The marginalization of labor movements and unions as an inconvenience to the everyday American is a great benefit to the ruling class. Not to get too controversial, but the United States isn’t a democracy (technically we’re a Republic, anyway but that’s not my point). In every way, the United States resembles an oligarchy.

The oligarchy has always been strong in the information sector, and that’s media like television and film is. The government fosters an environment of benefit to large corporations at the expense of the common man, and in return the government receives benefits from these corporations. Let me note very quickly that here “government” is shorthand for specific elected officials with the power to make these changes who receive donations, lobbying jobs, or kickbacks (legal or illegal) as rewards for the beneficial environment the corporations have been given. This has always been the case. In 1907, Theodore Vail became the president of American Telephone and Telegraph for the second time. His policy, and the policy of the company, became to make communication nearly universal and instant. Vail truly believed he was doing the best thing for the world. And in a sense, his vision for AT&T was the base for a more connected world. f7WMVyz That doesn’t mean it was the right way to go about it. Vail’s AT&T bought up regional telecommunications companies all over the US. It got to be so bad that eventually AT&T and Vail had to agree to something called the Kingsbury Commitment. The thing about the Kingsbury Commitment that really matters is that it was an out of court settlement that was essentially a compromise from the government. The Interstate Commerce Committee has everything it needed to pursue AT&T’s monopoly and break it up under antitrust laws, but instead chose to go light because of what AT&T said it could provide the government, including services to the US military. This isn’t the first example of corporations buying favor with the US government at the expense of consumers and the general public, but it is a very important example of it.

The tangent of a monopoly on telephones and telegraphs might be a little less than on topic with the writer’s strike, the idea remains the same: the US, in both the government and the top companies will work to their fullest ability to further themselves with no regard for the harm caused to the general population. That leads back to the writer’s strike. In 2007, the strike was about the right of the writers to earn money on their content. This included residuals on digital content. The studios played the role of Theodore Vail: they insisted they knew what was best, and they did so in direct opposition to the goals of the Writer’s Guild. It is the nature of capitalism to be averse to organized labor. The studios, the advertisers, the networks, they all were seeking to benefit at the expense of the writers. If they were able to earn money from something the writers could not, even if they deserve that money as much or more than the advertisers, they would try their best to do so. The strike is one of the working force’s only weapons against the tyranny of oppressive capitalist labor exploitation, and the writer’s guild used their weapon well.

Unfortunately for unions, and the state of labor not just in the United States but the world, the power of the worker is dwindling. Unions are losing sway in many sectors. The jobs that exist are dwindling in sectors that are organized into unions, and growing so fast in sectors that are not unionized that the overall power of unions has become less and less. Even unions that are already formed are under scrutiny. To return to the origin of this post, so many people who didn’t know better were mad at the writers in 2007. These people are very unlikely to ever be better informed, because those who would tell them the true nature of organized labor and why the writers went on strike are the same who benefit from a weak guild. The state of all labor hangs on the whims of the people who benefit the most from the least organized labor they can find. They find benefit in the exploitation of workers, whether it is in coal mines or writers rooms.

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The Writer’s Guild negotiates every 3 years. Do the math, and that means the next time they are on the block for contracts is 2019. The importance of these negotiations can’t be understated. These negotiations could set the tone of organized labor for the future in ways that may be unable to be corrected if they go wrong. The Writer’s Guild has such relevance to daily life that they can impart significant change on the landscape of labor if they choose to go about it. They already have significant clout in social change using their writing to produce content that can sway public opinion, but their next great challenge in changing the direction of the country comes off the screen. The Guild must take a stand against the corporations that profit off their work with no regard for the content creators that earn them all their money. The United States exists in its current state as a tumultuous country with much in the way of risk ahead. The notion of a free nation where the people benefit more than the corporations is at stake. As they have done countless times before, the Writer’s Guild of America must make a statement. And if there were anyone you could trust to make a powerful statement, it would be writers.

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