Writers strike threatens entertainment industry profits

At a minute past midnight PDT, 3:01 a.m. EDT, May 2, some 11,500 Writers Guild members launched a strike against Netflix, Amazon, Apple, Disney, Discovery-Warner, NBC Universal, Paramount and Sony. Picket lines went up in force in Los Angeles and New York City. Picket lines in Atlanta, Chicago and other cities followed. The union has called for mass rallies May 15.

Writers Guild picket line outside Netflix office, Manhattan, New York, May 5. WW Photo: Marsha Goldberg

Manhattan picketers lined the perimeter of a city block where the Netflix building is located. Chants included: “What do we want? Contracts. When do we want them? Now.” 

On both coasts union members, who write content for a range of popular TV shows, displayed their creativity with handwritten sign slogans, such as “My neck, my back, we need a fair contract!” and “You’re gonna be the villains in a limited series about this.”

The strike has had an immediate impact on late night talk shows, shutting down production. Shows that were recorded further in advance will see production halted if the strike drags on — a very real possibility.

The studio bosses, all part of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, claim their offer “included generous increases in compensation for writers, as well as improvements in streaming residuals.”

Union disagrees

The union disagrees. Accusing the companies of creating “a gig economy inside a union workforce,” the WGA explained: “From their refusal to guarantee any level of weekly employment in episodic television, to the creation of a ‘day rate’ in comedy variety, to their stonewalling on free work for screenwriters and on AI (artificial intelligence) for all writers, they have closed the door on their labor force and opened the door to writing as an entirely freelance profession.” (npr.org, May 4)

The strike comes as TV viewers are watching less network and cable programming and more streaming service shows. This has not hurt the bottom line for the studios, but it has hurt their writers. 

As Emmy-award winning writer and striker Josh Gondelman wrote: “While overall production budgets have risen sharply, writer pay has declined by 4% over the past decade — 23% when adjusted for inflation. The shift of film and television to streaming has meant lower residuals (the money which writers are paid when their shows are re-aired) and shorter seasons. 

“The proliferation of so-called “mini-rooms” — where small writing staffs often work on a show before it is green-lighted — has many writers taking short-term jobs for less than their established rate.” (The Nation, May 4) What the union is asking for, Gondelman points out, is less than 2% of the studios’ budgets. 

Nearly 98% of Guild members voted in favor of strike action. Many members of other unions have joined the picket lines. Television celebrities and elected officials have spoken publicly in support of the strike. 

Mass working-class solidarity across sectors is what is needed to win strikes, whether at TV studios, Starbucks stores, hospitals or universities — or with UPS later this summer. 

Victory to the writers strike!

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