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There’s Power in a Union

The United Auto Workers has begun a series of targeted strikes which may expand to most or all of its 145,000 members walking off the job.

The Writers Guild of America has been on strike since May, disrupting pretty much any show with a script. The strike has disrupted everything from the Emmys® to The Drew Barrymore Show.

Even if the shows had scripts, who would learn the lines? The Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists took to the picket lines in July.

Shows at The Straz won’t be affected because actors in live theater are represented by the Actors’ Equity Association.

With Labor Day just passed and strikes and rumors of strikes in the news, it’s a good time to remember the reason for and necessity of unions.

Say you work in a factory with 1,000 other employees. Your pay is low, your benefits are minimal, chances for advancement are non-existent and overtime isn’t compensated. You decide to walk out of work until the issues are addressed. The company fires you, hires someone else and rolls on as if nothing had happened.

However, if you and 500 other workers walk out, production will be disrupted. The factory might have to shut down. Hiring 500 new workers in a short period would be near impossible. The business is far more willing to negotiate when its bottom line is threatened.

Businesses need workers. Workers need jobs. The need is mutual but the only bargaining chip workers have is their labor. When the two sides reach an impasse, voila! Strike.

The fact that strikes are generally speaking rare occurrences suggests that most business-labor negotiations are settled in conference rooms instead of on picket lines.

Unions represent actors and autoworkers and scores of occupations in between: coal miners, musicians, sex workers. The IUSW. Look it up (not at work).

Many theatrical professionals who work behind the scenes, including those here at The Straz, are represented by the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE). 

The disruption in the entertainment market caused by streaming has been hard on writers. The number of jobs went up, but the money being paid went down. Industry profits, meanwhile, are up astronomically. Netflix reported successive annual profits of $6 billion in 2021 and $5.6 billion in 2022.

But the streaming model is a consistent flow of new content and the writers’ strike is going to dam that up but good. No telling if Netflix can survive on reruns alone. At least we still have reality television which dispenses with writers on the assumption that people acting like asses will pass for entertainment. They aren’t wrong.

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