As of today, at 12.01am (PST), the Writers Guild of America (East and West) are on strike. American television variety shows such as Saturday Night Live, The Daily Show with John Stewart, The David Letterman Show, and The Colbert Report will be affected immediately. If the strike continues most American television programmes will be unable to air original material after a couple of months. All writing on feature films ceases during the strike.
Between the two chapters the WGA has 12,000 members, and over 3,000 of them attended a rally on November 1st to discuss the strike with their Guild officers. It’s obvious the membership of the WGA are serious about this action. This video of the WGA Contract/Picket Captains shows why they support the Guild in the forthcoming strike. The Guild has established a blog called United Hollywood that will track the issues and discuss the progress of the strike.
This is not an easy decision for writers – they are voluntarily refusing to work to highlight the important and significant contribution they make to American film and television without a suitable compensation. Without words on the page there is nothing to shoot, nothing to act, and nothing to air. These writers have mortgages, families, and bills. Taking a stand always comes at a price – but some of them have kept their sense of humour.
It’s no secret I’ve been a long supporter of Guilds and Unions. While in Trinity College, Dublin I was Information Officer twice, and later President of the Graduates Students’ Union. My job was to ensure that students were treated fairly and with respect by the university. Often it felt like an uphill struggle. There was a lot of bureaucracy. I attended and contributed to dozens of college committees. I observed how business was conducted (mostly behind the scenes – committees were often a hand-waving exercise to distract from where the real deals were going on), and I learned how to apply pressure to help the general membership, or individual postgraduates.
Any situation where one group is at a power disadvantage to another requires that the dispossessed come together and take action in a focused manner. That is the only way to create change. If we didn’t have Unions and Guilds we’d still have kids sweeping chimneys and working in coalmines – and that remains the fate of many people in other countries. Countries that usually outlaw or severely discourage unions.
Currently I work part-time for the Irish Playwrights and Screenwriters Guild (IPSG). The Guild supports the writers’ strike in the USA, and not just because it’s a member of the International Affiliation of Writers Guilds.
A writer considering taking work from any of the member companies of the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers during the strike should be aware of Rule 13 of the WGA Strike Rules which states:
“The Guild (WGA) does not have the authority to discipline non members for strike breaking and/or scab writing. However, the Guild can and will bar that writer from future Guild membership. This policy has been strictly enforced in the past and has resulted in convincing many would be strike breakers to refrain from seriously harming the Guild and its members during a strike.”
Best of luck to all the screenwriters on strike in the USA.