On May 2, TV and movie writers went on strike for the first time in 15 years. Today’s strike includes some 11,500 film and TV writers, who belong to the union Writers Guild of America (WGA). The strike began when the union and the boss, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents eight major studios, failed to settle on a contract. The crux of their disagreement are streaming services, and its impact on writers’ pay and job security. Writers are making a smaller share of money in what are known as mini rooms. Staff writers are the lowest-paid roles, and have unstable work schedules. This has created what the WGA calls a “gig economy inside a union workforce.”
June 2 marks one month on the picket line, and the strike may continue for considerably longer. This is the sixth writers’ strike since 1960, with the longest work stoppage lasting 153 days in 1988. In addition to Los Angeles soundstages, writers have picketed locations in the New Jersey suburbs, New York’s Westchester County, and Chicago.
In the last months, there have been different actions demonstrating solidarity from other unions and workers. One screenwriter pickets daily at production sites whose scripts were finished before the strike, and tried to disrupt filming. He carried a picket sign that reads, “Thank You 399,” to send a message to the truck drivers, members of the local branch of the Teamsters union, to not cross his picket line. The truck drivers drove past the studio entrance, honked their horns, and waved in an act of workers’ solidarity!
Some have been surprised with the success of these organizing tactics. Showtime paused production on the sixth season of “The Chi” after writers gathered for two straight days outside the gates of the Chicago studio where it was filming. Apple TV’s “Loot” shut down after writers picketed a Los Angeles mansion where filming was taking place. The show’s star, Maya Rudolph, retreated to her trailer and was unwilling to return to set. And social media has provided a way to alert writers to quickly get to specific picket lines.
While makeshift picket lines have disrupted individual productions, it is not yet clear that they’ve had much an effect on the status of the negotiations. These haven’t resumed since they broke down on May 1, and the industry is bracing for the possibility that the strike could last for months. But there is a sense that something can really be achieved if workers stick together.
Still there is much to anticipate this June, the second month of the writers’ strike. The contracts of the Directors Guild of America (DGA) and the Screen Actors Guild (SGA) both expire on June 30, with SAG and AMPTP expected to begin negotiations on June 7. The actors’ union SAG-AFTRA has called for a strike authorization vote. If the strike is approved, actors could join the more than 11,000 Writers Guild members already on the picket line, which could put more pressure on studios and networks. Many writers are anticipating this; they are hopeful that this will give power to the strike and help them win a strong contract.
The writers and actors are in sync, and share many of the same concerns about workers being left behind by the streaming revolution, and the shift toward a gig economy. If such a scenario were to unfold, it might make a serious impact on the boss, the AMPTP. There is a lot of public attention around the writers’ strike, and the solidarity among workers might pressure the Alliance to fold.
So far many workers across industries are respecting the writers’ picket line. When workers come together like this, they can support each other in these struggles for a living wage, for better job protections, and to improve their quality of life. Strikes like this can inspire others to organize and build solidarity across the working class for a better world. So let’s support workers’ solidarity, and let’s support the writers, directors and actors who entertain us.