As Writers Guild positions itself to make a deal, isolation of actors’ and writers’ strike remains greatest danger

Some 11,000 film and television writers have been on strike in the US for four months, 65,000 actors for more than a month and a half. These workers, members of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) respectively, have been conducting a brave, determined struggle against some of the largest corporations in the world.

Thousands have walked the picket lines in extreme heat, experiencing increasing economic hardship as the weeks have gone by. One factor no doubt keeping up the spirits of the writers and actors is the knowledge that they have vast public support: the mega-corporate chiefs are widely despised.

Striking writers and actors outside Warner Bros. Studios, July 2023

Faced with contracts expiring for the WGA, Directors Guild of America (DGA) and SAG-AFTRA, the clumsy, cruel plan of the conglomerates was transparent. They intended to allow the WGA to walk out and expected to reach deals with the DGA, which they did, and SAG-AFTRA, allowing them to corner and crush the writers.

A July 11 article in Deadline, based on conversations with studio executives, spelled this out quite explicitly. The companies had no intention of negotiating with the striking writers, the article explained. One individual, familiar with the views of industry executives, told Deadline, “I think we’re in for a long strike, and they’re going to let it bleed out.”

“Receiving positive feedback from Wall Street since the WGA went on strike May 2,” the article went on, “Warner Bros Discovery, Apple, Netflix, Amazon, Disney, Paramount and others have become determined to ‘break the WGA,’ as one studio exec blatantly put it. … ‘The endgame is to allow things to drag on until union members start losing their apartments and losing their houses,’” a studio executive told Deadline. “Acknowledging the cold-as-ice approach, several other sources reiterated the statement.”

This was an open declaration of war on the writers and the workers in the industry generally.

The uprising by SAG-AFTRA members, reflected in the open letter eventually signed by 3,000 performers calling on the union’s officials not to sell them out, which made possible the actors’ July 14 walkout, threw a monkey wrench into the companies’ plans.

On August 11, nearly 15 weeks into the writers’ strike, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) finally offered a counterproposal to the WGA’s demands. Four days later, the WGA came back with its positions.

On August 21, the companies summoned the WGA leaders to meet the following day with a group of industry titans—something along the lines of feudal lords permitting their peons to enter their presence.

As the WGA explains in an update, the “invitation to meet with Bob Iger (of Disney), Donna Langley (of Universal), Ted Sarandos (of Netflix), David Zaslav (of Warner Bros. Discovery) and Carol Lombardini (president of the AMPTP) … was accompanied by a message that it was past time to end this strike and that the companies were finally ready to bargain for a deal.”

Instead, writes the WGA, “on the 113th day of the strike—and while SAG-AFTRA is walking the picket lines by our side—we were met with a lecture (from the CEOs) about how good their single and only counteroffer was.” The WGA negotiators, in the words of a guild update, “explained all the ways in which their counter’s limitations and loopholes and omissions failed to sufficiently protect writers from the existential threats that caused us to strike in the first place.” In other words, the companies’ proposal was miserable and a further provocation, part of the all-out war they are prosecuting against the writers and actors.

At the meeting, the CEOs announced their plans to go over the heads of the WGA directly to the membership by releasing their offer “within the next 24 hours.” In fact, they issued a six-page document some 20 minutes after the August 22 meeting ended. To this date, there is no indication of any support among writers for the deal.

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