Monday, November 05, 2007

More Selfish Bastards Sticking It!

In case you don’t watch TV (yeah, you’re so cool), or just don’t pay attention, the Writers Guild of America, aka - the writers union has gone on strike. What does that mean? It means The Daily Show and Colbert are not on tonight. Damn.

But the interesting thing to me about this is it seems to be the very last union left in the United States that gets the support of the people. Why is that? Let’s compare it to the New York City transit strike of 2005. MTA (The Man) - rich, corrupt and incompetent. MTA workers (The Little Guy) - underpaid, overworked, and constantly looking over their shoulder, worrying about getting laid off. Hollywood producers - rich, corrupt, and probably incompetent, although I can’t say for sure. Hollywood writers - probably paid very well, (but definitely not as well as they deserve, at least not if they work for Lost, 30 Rock, Pushing Daisies, or other such brilliant programs. More than they deserve if they work for Two and a Half Men or anything with Dane Cook), constantly looking over their shoulder with the rise of reality programming, probably overworked and underappreciated.

So what is it about the writers that makes people side with them? During the transit strike, the entire blame fell on the union, as though asking for a living wage was fine as long as it doesn’t inconvenience anyone. “I’d rather bring back indentured servitude than be late for work.” In the case of the automakers or Wal-Mart, it’s all the union’s fault that cars are so expensive with the former, and the lack of a union is why I get a DVD player for $14 at the latter. So why is the writers’ union held in such high regard? Why are people lauding Tina Fey or Jon Stewart for making impassioned pleas on the writers’ behalf, but ridiculing me for favoring unions the rest of the time?

Don’t misunderstand - I agree with them 100%. The writers deserve all that they can get, and god knows many of them are quite talented - talent I wish I possessed. But what is it about literally every other union in the country that inspires such disdain and mistrust? Why is it if the teachers strike so they don’t have to buy their own fucking loose-leaf paper and text books for children that it’s the teachers’ fault, and not the fault of tax-slashing administrations or tax dodging multi-national corporations for underfunding city services? The auto unions are so powerless thanks to dwindling membership and a lack of public support that they stage a phony one day strike to make some sort of arcane point, and then happily lap up whatever table scraps the automakers offer them. Why is it that when the MTA is raising fares, decreasing service and letting the subway fall into complete disrepair, making a handy salary for the fat cats, all the while laying off hundreds of union employees, that it’s the transit workers’ union who bear the brunt of commuter rage when the workers decide enough is enough?

Why is the writer’s union of Hollywood, of all places, the one union held in any esteem whatsoever? God bless ‘em and good luck! Honest. Hell, I can use a break from TV, so I’m with the workers, as always. But what is it about America that except in this one situation, always makes people side with The Man over The Little Guy?

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

I don't understand it either. These are the same people who, against their own best interests, continue to vote Republican. Crazy.

Michael Grant said...

Your point is well taken, Anonymous, but the problem is that it’s not just the Republicans who are against unions. It’s some of my best, most liberal friends. Everyone hates unions these days and it seems to me to be another symptom of a greater disease which is pushing us back to before Teddy’s trust-busting and FDR’s New Deal. Back to a world of robber barons with no minimum wage, no worker protections, no more signs proclaiming “x” days since last work-related accident because someone loses a limb every day.

Except the writers. They’ll be fine.

Anonymous said...

It's awful, but I think it's because most of those other union represent people who are pretty well compensated for jobs that aren't really that skilled.

I think there's elements of jealousy involved: Like, "Why does MTA guy make more than me to just drive a train when I had to go to school for years and years to learn my trade?"

And also, MTA workers, on the whole, are dicks. The one TV writer I know is really nice.

Michael Grant said...

You need to take a look at the big picture. It's absolutely true that the people who work for the MTA have always been dicks to me personally (ignoring the colossal dickishness that they must endure for 40 hours a week from the unwashed masses who constantly bug them), but the individual is beside the point. So are the jobs they perform. The point of the New Deal and by extension, the workers rights laws enacted in the decades following wasn't to reward individual people. The point was to make our society beneficial for all.

I doubt there is an honest economist alive who would disagree with the fact that the unions were instrumental in the creation of the middle class, the class to which most DoG readers probably belong. It's no coincidence that we see things such as the "middle class squeeze" or the "missing class" rise at the same time that we see the power of the unions fall.

Most union jobs were unionized precisely because they were mostly less-skilled positions and the workers could be replaced quickly and easily. Unions were designed to give regular Joes (and Josephines) a certain degree of job security and a wage that could support a family. As we see these guarantees dwindle away, we find increasing poverty, crime, homelessness, welfare roles, and a decreasing tax base - an overall drain on society as a whole.

Those drains on society come with a price. So should you and I foot the bill after the fact? Or should we let the corporations pay for it preventively? The bonus of paying for it in advance is the better standard of living afforded to those we're looking after.

To bring it back to the writers, we mustn't forget that by and large, they are still considered unskilled laborers in the minds of most Hollywood producers. Look how easily they've fired geniuses like Joss Whedon or Kevin Smith from major motion pictures to replace them with a basic staff writer. I'm not suggesting that Joss Whedon needs protection. On the contrary - my question is why do the writers have such universal support when the UAW is held in such contempt?

Anonymous said...

Michael:

I agree with your basic premises but I think the problem is there is very little we can do. Without restrictive tariffs on foreign automobiles Americans WILL buy the cheaper automobile.

And sadly, due to globalization, it will not be the American one.

I wish I had an answer, but shy of America becoming a socialist state I don't see another way to keep the pay in the manufacturing sector so high.

But we're stuck with the MTA. They f-cked everyone over at Christmastime and we realized exactly how powerful they actually are.

The writers strike might also fail once the networks realize Americans are just as happy to watch reality shows as they are quality programming, but that might be a result of the WGA not including reality show writers.

Things are complicated. I wish we had other choices.

Anonymous said...

Addendum: I'm not sure what's going to happen to society if we keep going like this. I assume it can't be good.

Michael Grant said...

This is a complicated issue, to be sure. Your final comment probably expresses my feelings best. There was a time in this country, however, when people didn't bow down to the god capitalism and instinctively side with the behemoth corporation. Those days, unfortunately, have long since passed.

But to state without question that there is no way for U.S. corporations to make a profit and share those profits with their workers is dreadfully short-sighted. We can look at James Surowiecki's analysis of CEO compensation as a start.