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This is part of a series of frank accounts of the strike from Hollywood writers at different levels in their careers. The diarists have been granted anonymity to encourage candor. You can read previous entries by ‘The Well-Known Creator’ and others here.
One of my earliest memories is of my mom loading us into our family car — a two-door Toyota — one day and driving down to the inner-city high school where my father taught so we could bring him a bag lunch. Strangely, we didn’t find him in his classroom as usual but on the other side of the fence, the outside of the school side of the fence, walking the perimeter of the school alongside his fellow teachers, holding signs aloft. The teachers were on strike, and it was our job to bring him a sandwich and a Thermos of coffee and lift his spirits. I didn’t understand what a “strike” meant, only that my father, who was not a big fan of walking or holding things, wasn’t allowed to enter his classroom, to teach his students, because the school district was being, I was told, “unfair.”
Fairness is a pretty binary concept to a child. My kids see unhoused people and ask why no one is helping them. “That’s a very complicated question,” we respond. They, of course, don’t understand the vagaries of underfunded social programs and dodged corporate taxes and jurisdictional government battles, or the complicated nature of mental illness and addiction and generational trauma and racism and the insidious byproducts of unregulated capitalism and yawning wealth inequality. They see that someone is suffering and wonder why no one in charge is helping them. Period. As we grow older, we start to see the gray in things, start to understand the limitations and the complications and the paradoxes that render some problems unsolvable. However, I often feel I’m too both-side-y — that I’ve gone too far in my adult knowledge that the intricacies of things usually, at least somewhat, smudge the lines between pure right and wrong. Perhaps it should be as simple as: This Is Unfair, Fix It.
I am 100 percent on the side of the guild in this strike. The companies have been, it is now clear, transforming the industry to suit their evolving needs and using said pivot as a smokescreen behind which to subvert our hard-won gains, seeking to erode our power and institute rollbacks in the guise of maintaining the “creative nature of our industry.” It doesn’t matter who these companies are or even what business they’re in or whether or not the disgruntled workers are sympathetic every-men or privileged whiners, this is a tale as old as capitalism: The Man is trying to screw The Worker.
Now, in keeping on theme, a truly adult, nuanced analysis of the writers strike might give some consideration to the real pressures on the C-suites and boards of these companies to maximize profits and increase stock value and solidify market share as they make the bumpy transition to the primacy of streaming in the face of a compounding horde of entertainment options fighting for the quickly eroding and fragmenting audience’s attention.
One could understand, then, the need to reduce labor costs and the rare opportunity that a contract renegotiation affords them to codify the incremental and insidious (but necessary! so necessary!) reductions in said costs that they’ve snuck through via manipulation of mandatory staffing numbers, the normalization of the abnormal (mini-rooms!) and the stretching of employment terms for those senior enough to be on a weekly salary and other flimflammery. And when a new technology appears on the horizon that might one day help further reduce those costs by replacing expensive union labor in, say, generating first drafts (which are really just a template anyway, who are we kidding?), how could they be expected to irreversibly hamstring themselves from ever taking advantage of the technology that, yes, is, in current form, flawed, but in two years might produce work indistinguishable from an average scribe’s initial effort.
I mean, why should a tech company declare themselves Luddites in this one area? It’s really an absurd ask. And OK, the optics surrounding our CEO salaries are not great but consider the responsibility and accountability on the shoulders of an average CEO, not to mention the limited pool of qualified candidates for those lofty jobs, which naturally pushes compensation higher. Plus, the fact that offering a CEO or Chairman lucrative stock options helps to align their salary with the performance of the company they are in charge of, which is good for everyone, and so what if sometimes that results in an, oops, NINE-FIGURE payday for ONE ALREADY RICH HUMAN BEING? And really, is labor inherently “good” and the owners of the means of production “bad”? What are we, 5? And ya know, what if we just decide to dig our heels in on this one? Pivot to 100 percent foreign and unscripted product. They’ll eventually cave. Don’t think we haven’t discussed this.
I mean, what if we decide that this is the moment, the inflection point, beyond which our companies cannot continue to demonstrate steady, robust growth, which could, in turn, lead to our parent company losing faith in the very sustainability of having an entertainment division at all? When the workers in China, who make our company’s core products, sure as hell aren’t ever going to be allowed to unionize and cause all this agita and bad feelings and indigestion and the mean, seriously hurtful signs, and the honking. My god, the fucking honking. I mean, we’re people too! Where are OUR Jay Leno donuts? Where’s my hug from Mandy Patinkin? I would have liked to see Tom Morello! I raged against all sorts of machines back in the day! Don’t believe me? Watch this… You want us to pay you more, writers? Well, FUCK YOU, I WON’T DO WHAT YOU TELL ME! Ha. How’s that, you greedy assholes?!
…OK, so maybe an overly nuanced read of every situation is inadvisable. Attempting to get inside the head of the bad guy is useful when you’re playing Javert or Iago. But when you’re fighting for your livelihood and the viability of your career, perhaps it’s better to put your head down, your sign up and march on.
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