Drooling on the Pillow

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

The Briar Patch Strike 

The SAG (Screen Actors Guild) strike of 2000 was one of the most disastrous labor actions in history. Not in terms of the economic impact to the nation, just as far as labor getting pantsed by management. The only one that comes close is the risible MLB Umpire's Strike in 1999.

The first question you've got to ask is why would a "union" whose membership historically suffers 90% unemployment even in good times decide to commit to a work stoppage? The vast majority of membership sustains itself on non-industry jobs. The elite don't need the money. This leaves a small slice - I would guess somewhere between 5 and 10% who make a good living, but aren't getting rich. Lane is in this strata, the one for whom labor issues are more than Joe Hill rhetoric and worker solidarity. She still is in that group, but the entire group's income has dropped probably better than 30% since the strike.

SAG was suckered into striking by management making noises about abandoning the system of residuals which is the way actors who actually work make a living. It seems pretty clear that the producers had no real intention of messing with residuals, but in the months of completely unproductive negotiations they were working out how to avoid using union actors at all. At the end of the strike the union had "saved" residuals and membership began collecting residuals on a much smaller piece of the advertising pie.

Most people, most consumers of TV and radio probably have not noticed much, if any, difference between the product of 1999 and 2004. But computer generated graphics, Canadian production, non-union production and celebrity spokes-person ads have all soared. Look at a half-hours worth of ads and see how many don't have any actors at all. You just see the car zooming around or the food sitting there looking good or shots of a dark city going past. They hire a voice-over guy and call it a wrap. The producers didn't target the actors because they represented a huge part of their budget. They took off on the actors because they were easy. Low hanging fruit. They wanted to cut costs and the easiest not-insignificant cost to cut was SAG. Wouldn't you?
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