Supporting the Writer’s Strike

I support the strike now being waged by the Writers Guild of America (WGA) against the six gigantic media corporations that call themselves the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). Since Nov. 5, 2007, 12,000 writers have been on strike over the issue of fair compensation for their works being broadcast on the internet. Currently writers receive nothing from the studios when their works are downloaded or streamed online, and the conglomerates hope to continue refusing writers any percentage of the billions of dollars in profits that will be made in years to come through online distribution. As of Dec. 7, the AMPTP walked away from negotiations with the WGA, insisting that the writer’s union drop six of their demands before discussion could proceed. Striking writers have suspended their picket lines for the holidays – but picketing will resume January 7.

Writers on strike

[ Striking writers demonstration – Photo by Michael Jones, courtesy WGA. ]

Why should an independent visual artist be concerned with the affairs of writers who create content for the U.S. film and television industry? On a personal level, I feel kinship with all those who are involved in cultural output – whether musicians, photographers, dancers, painters, writers, etc., since we share certain commonalities as creative individuals. As the ones who generate art and culture in society, we should not only be aware of our common bonds – we should support and work with each other as natural allies. As with all of the artistic disciplines, it’s very difficult to make a living as a writer. At present it is nearly impossible to have a gainful career as a novelist, playwright, or poet, and as a result, many skilled and talented individuals who are driven to pursue writing because they love it and are dedicated to the craft – have come to write for movies and television. If the gigantic media corporations defeat this strike and the process of corporate monopolization intensifies, it will become increasingly arduous to maintain a life as a writer.

The writer’s strike is not simply their fight alone, the justness of their cause should be apparent to every person who labors for a salary, and it really boils down to one simple question – should workers receive proper compensation for their toil? The six media monopoly giants that make up the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers consist of General Electric (which owns NBC), Time Warner (which owns CNN and Warner Bros.), the Walt Disney Company (which owns ABC), Viacom (which owns Paramount and is itself owned by billionaire media mogul, Sumner Redstone), News Corporation (which owns Fox), and CBS Corporation (also owned by Sumner Redstone). That these powerful conglomerates own the nation’s media, from newspapers, radio, and television to movie and TV studios, generating hundreds of billions of dollars in profits – give the lie to their claims that they can’t “afford” to meet the writer’s demands. The estimated corporate revenue from digital streaming alone in the next 2 years is $3 Billion, with not a single penny of those super profits going to writers.

There are some on the sidelines who have turned their backs on the writer’s strike, insisting that the writers don’t deserve support because of the distractive and escapist quality of corporate television programming. While it’s true commercial TV offers few broadcasts of a sophisticated or educational nature, repudiating the writers strike entirely misses the point. Workers in the “fast food” industry are not exactly known for creating and dishing out haute cuisine, but are they not entitled to decent working conditions and fair compensation for their labor? If you work for a living, you should be duly remunerated. The overwhelming majority of writers in the Hollywood industry work on a freelance basis and live and work from paycheck to paycheck. During any given year around half of WGA’s members are unemployed.

If the AMPTP breaks the writer’s strike they will have succeeded in drastically altering labor relations in Hollywood, clearing the way for assaults on wages and conditions for all workers in the television and film industry. The stakes in this strike are much higher than most people realize. On Dec. 19, 2007, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to do away with a ban that prevented corporations from owning multiple newspapers and TV and radio stations in the same market. The FCC ruling now makes it possible for corporations, like the six media monopoly giants that make up the AMPTP, to acquire and control even more of the nation’s media outlets.

Equitable compensation for writers regarding the use of new media in the Hollywood motion picture and television industry is the focus of this strike – but there are other issues to ponder as well. The question of monopolization and the corporate stranglehold upon the cultural life of the nation should be on everyone’s mind. How did a handful of megacorporations come to hold so much power over the nation’s art and culture and what can we do about it? Joining in solidarity with the WGA should be a first step. When the striking writer’s picket lines resume in the new year, everyone concerned with fair play, justice, and the democratization of culture, should join them – I know I will.

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