Actors on Strike

Striking actors and media professionals at a picket in New York on July 17. Image source: "Eden, Janine and Jim" via Flickr

On July 14, 165,000 actors represented by SAG-AFTRA went on strike against Hollywood studios. They join the 11,500 writers of the Writers Guild of America, who have been on strike since the beginning of May. This is the first time that both unions have been on strike at the same time since 1960.

While Hollywood is supposedly a place of wealth and fame, the vast majority of people who work in film are not well-known actors or writers. The average pay for SAG-AFTRA actors is only $40,000 a year – below the national pay average. Many actors take second jobs in between working in film or television just to make enough money to afford to live. Many also rely on residuals, money that is paid to actors whenever a movie or television episode is replayed. But as streaming services have mushroomed in the past years, money from residuals has shrunk to a trickle of what it once was, leaving many in the film industry with even less money than before.

The use of A.I. by big studios threatens the livelihoods of both actors and writers. With the improvement of A.I., producers are considering using it to help generate scripts. And actors right now have little control over how their likenesses can be used – so studios are free to use A.I. to generate the likenesses of actors. Actor James Van Der Beek noted that because of A.I., “acting and writing might cease to be a viable career in the future. Now, I know that sounds dramatic, but it is the truth.” Massive media companies are doing everything they can to automate even the production of entertainment.

The arrogance and disdain that the CEOs of major entertainment companies have shown to the writers and actors whose work makes these companies run has been staggering. Bob Iger, the CEO of Disney, has been given ample airtime by big media corporations to chide the writers and actors for their wage demands that aren’t “realistic”. This comes as Disney announced record-breaking profits from 2022. Another anonymous studio executive said that the goal of the big studios is to “allow things to drag on until union members start losing their apartments and losing their houses,” which he said was a “cruel but necessary evil.” The sociopathic, profit-driven greed of these executives is insane.

These strikes come on the heels of massive strikes by university workers in the past year, including at the University of California and Rutgers University. UPS workers are preparing for a possible strike at the end of July. Bosses in every industry are tightening the screws on workers – trying to get more money out of us for even less pay. Actors and writers are showing how to resist these attacks. But the only lasting solution is for production – including the production of entertainment – to be taken out of the control of the rich and instead given to the working class.