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Entertainment Unions Ramp Up Support for Occupy Wall Street

Rosanna Arquette May 2011 - P
Getty

WGA East, American Federation of Musicians, and activists like Rosanna Arquette take to the streets, while WGA West issues statement of support.

Decrying "gross income inequality and outrageous CEO compensation" and pointing to a backdrop of unemployment and foreclosures, Writers Guild of America East president Michael Winship joined Occupy Wall Street protesters in a march Wednesday as part of a WGAE contingent that included executive director Lowell Peterson and about three dozen guild members and staff.

The American Federation of Musicians Local 802 also participated in the march. AFM national president Ray Hair joined the march as part of that contingent, stating he was doing so "in an effort to focus attention on the economic plight of America's working people" and blasting "the money men of Wall Street, who blew out the economy, (and) walked away unscathed, bailed out with their big bonuses, consolidating their power."

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"Capital has cleaned up on American workers in these hard times, very nearly cleaning us out," Hair added.

At this time in Los Angeles, a march by Occupy LA is in progress with the participation of the SEIU, among other unions. Rosanna Arquette was spotted at the event.

Also Thursday, President Obama said "The protesters are giving voice to a more broad based frustration about how our financial system works."

The New York march attracted wide media attention, with the New York Times reporting the participation of thousands of union members and unanimous support by the AFL-CIO's executive council. The AFL-CIO was reported to be participating a march in Washington Thursday.

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The WGA West joined the chorus of criticism today, with guild president Christopher Keyser saying "The rich are getting much, much richer (while) the middle class . . . is disappearing, and our poor and our unemployed are in free fall."

Keyser added, "The corporations and the people who gambled with our future, who made a killing on that bet and then got bailed out by us, are back with robust profits and unconscionable salaries. No one has paid a price for that but the American worker."

He also slammed both political parties, saying that "neither seems to have the guts or the independence to hold anyone accountable or to demand meaningful safeguards to protect us from all of this happening again."

So far, Actors Equity, AFTRA, the DGA, IATSE, SAG and the entertainment Teamsters have remained silent, perhaps reflecting labor union hesitation that the Times story spotlighted, resulting from the Occupy movement's somewhat anti-capitalist roots and origins outside of labor. Indeed, the explicitly class-based statements from the entertainment unions appear to be the first such language they've used in many years.

The entertainment unions are sometimes viewed as being organizations of the wealthy, but the majority of their members, both above and below the line, make incomes more accurately described as middle-class or below and often have to struggle to find work. Only the most visible members of those unions, such as top stars, make the sort of salaries considered high or even astronomical by ordinary standards.

Several of the entertainment unions stressed that they are not anti-capitalist, with Winship saying "None of us are against profit" and Keyser remarking "there is no requirement that everyone benefit equally." But Keyser added that "the game (should not be) rigged."

Email: jhandel@att.net

Twitter: @jhandel