Tuesday, November 13, 2007

On Labor.

Long time readers of this blog may assume from the title of this post that I'd be talking about pregnancy. And for once, they'd be wrong. Today we're actually going to talk about the plight of the working person.

Over the last couple of weeks, I've been reading up on two strikes and one potential strike that hit close to home (or at least the same neighborhood). Let's give them each some space here:

First, and most public, is the strike by the Writers Guild of America. To simplify it greatly, the writers are striking to correct a flaw in their previous contract that pays them a shockingly low per unit set fee for each video (or DVD) sold that contains their work. When the previous contract was agreed to, nobody saw the video market as being the huge cash cow that it has become. As I heard someone say today- "who would have predicted that people would gladly plunk down good money for entire TV series on DVD?" The other, slightly more complicated, part of the writers' demands is that they receive payment for content provided via the internet, for which they currently receive NOTHING. I can't blame them for being just a wee bit angry about this! We're seeing more and more of the tv networks broadcast whole shows absolutely free on their websites. The catch, of course, is that the networks sell advertising during these online streams. Thus, they're producing revenue through this "free service". It's ridiculous for the networks to make money off of someone's sweat and talent, but not compensate them, don't you think? This video from some of the fine folks involved with "the Office" makes the argument crystal clear- they made web content for NBC, won an Emmy for it, and never got paid. How on earth is that fair?

The other major strike right now is IATSE Local One in New York- the major stagehands union for most Broadway shows. This is more what one thinks of as a typical union action- management wants to cut jobs in half(!) and slash benefits to the remainder. As someone who spent several years as a technical theatre professional (a lifetime ago, it seems), I definitely feel a kinship with the strikers on this one- it's a hard, often dangerous job, with long potential periods of layoff. Anyone who works in theatre is considered "high risk" by health insurance companies, so getting your own insurance is pretty much out of the question. And yet, producers continue to hike ticket prices, increasing their profits by leaps and bounds. Why shouldn't the people who make the scenery move and the lights go on get better treatment? How on earth is that fair?

Far more locally, and on a far smaller scale, SEIU Local 73 Chapter 119, representing the food service and building services workers at the University of Illinois- Urbana/Champaign have been working without a contract since June 2006. They recently voted to approve a strike, which could start any day now. The University (a state run institution, it should be noted) is offering an obscenely low wage increase (2.5% versus a 4% request, which is in line with the current federal cost of living) and outright rejecting the other worker demands. It's sad that an institution with courses in labor history would not even take a good faith negotiating position with one of the most important unions on its campus. How much will it cost the university to bring in scabs to clean dorms and serve food? And how much of this will get passed on to students and taxpayers? This one just isn't fair to anyone!

These strikes are bad for everyone- the workers and their families, the general public, and the pocketbooks of management. But, in a strange way, it gives me hope. High profile work stoppages (the SEIU work stoppage will have an enormous impact, should it happen) like these are making people take a second look at the profit motive that is driving the corporate culture in this country. The sooner people realize that corporations just don't care despite their loud assertions to the contrary, the sooner we can start to talk about making real change in this country.

Deadline Hollywood Daily (great source of info about the WGA strike)
United Hollywood (pseudo-official touchstone for writers and their supporters)
Broadway World (daily coverage of the Local One strike)
Urbana Champaign Independent Media Center (the only local media providing info about the SEIU fight)

Always go out on a song- here's some Billy Bragg (with accompanying cheerleader in drag!) to keep you in the mood:

1 comment:

Cycho Librarian said...

I really think that two things need to happen. First, Labor needs to realize that it's in their best interests to try to move the industry forward. That's always been my issue with the UAW. They seem to want to hold on to the golden days of the internal combustion engine without doing anything to prepare their members for its inevitable demise. Second, companies need to realize that if they keep their workers happy and healthy they'll actually be more profitable in the long run. For a good example of that, check out Scott's Miracle-Gro in Marysville, OH. They've got some innovative approaches to their employee's health and well being (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=7706152). Some might take issue with the smoking ban, but the rest is very interesting.