Support Writers, Support Unions

by digby

You've probably noticed the ad over on the left about the writer's strike. If you click on it you will find that it leads you to a WGA and Firedoglake initiative to send letters to the producers of your favorite TV shows asking them to settle the strike. If you miss your shows, that's one good way to weigh in --- and support the WGA.

I write a lot about Republican corruption because they are just so much more deeply entrenched in the lobbyist culture. Being the party of big business and "free" markets, they are natural allies of corporate America. But that doesn't mean that they are alone in perpetuating it, not by a long shot. Money is the mother's milk of politics and all that rot.

Democratic candidates, for instance, have a financial advantage in Hollywood, for a variety of reasons. But with all that money comes a corporate agenda not substantially different than Big Pharma or Energy. They want the kind of regulation or deregulation that helps them. They want to be able to consolidate at will without any pesky interference from the tiresome do-gooders who insist that media has a special function in a democracy. They want to control content and payment for content. And they want to protect their tax breaks, of course.

So, while being in bed with Hollywood may be more glamorous than being in bed with Halliburton, it's still prostitution.

Jane Hamsher writes:

The AMPTP has hired Democratic consultant Chris Lehane.

Lehane worked for SAG during the last strike, at which point he said:

“... we believe strongly in the need to preserve the strength of the union and this agreement does that. We both come from liberal, progressive backgrounds, and this union represents working people."

I guess "liberal" and "progressive" have become synonymous with "union busting asshole."

Over at United Hollywood, they point out why this is such a big load of bullshit:

This firm has built a reputation and a substantial income largely from Democratic, progressive political causes. A short list of their past employers includes Al Gore, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Michael Moore/Miramax (for Fahrenheit 9/11 and Sicko), and my personal favorite, the Screen Actors Guild. Founding partner Chris Lehane is currently a consultant for the Californians for Fair Election Reform, a major Democratic group, among other things.

My DC lobbyist friends tell me that for emergency “crisis management,” firms like Fabiani & Lehane charge as much as $100,000 dollars a month. But the AMPTP is also paying Steve Schmidt, a veteran Republican-leaning PR guru. He could easily cost another $100,000 a month.

My concern is this: no one hires crisis management firms at such huge expense if they’re planning on making a fair deal. A fair deal doesn't require hundreds of thousands of dollars of spin to sell. A fair deal is its own good PR.

No matter what happens with Lehane, the AMPTP has gotten their money's worth out of him. He's a "Democratic Consultant" who just sold them his party affiliation so they can say well, we're working with the Democrats too so as not to be written off as corporate Republican creeps.

But nobody drops this kind of money when they're getting ready to settle, and indeed the AMPTP has never produced the second half of the "offer" with regard to streaming video content that they promised on Tuesday...

"Democrat" Jim Cramer was on Hardball a couple of months back talking about the (short lived, as it turned out) UAW strike of General Motors. Here is what he said:

MATTHEWS: Well, you know, Charles Wilson, head of GM once said, what‘s good for GM is good for America.

How can you say that, Jim, if you‘re taking the jobs out of America?

JIM CRAMER, HOST, “MAD MONEY”: Well, I got to tell you something.

First of all, you have got this issue all framed wrong, Chris.

This is about breaking the union. You break the union, you save the company. Do you know that, in 1992, Caterpillar broke the union, same union? Caterpillar‘s stock was at $5. Now it‘s at $76.

You know, the same month that they broke the union, GM‘s stock an was at $34. Where is today? Thirty-four. If GM wants to be a competitive company in the world marketplace, like Caterpillar is, the number-one maker of earth-moving equipment in the world, it‘s got to break the union.

You can see the YouTube here. He said it as if he were talking about the sun coming up tomorrow. It was completely obvious to him.

Now lest anyone think this back-handed anti-union behavior is confined to Clinton associates like Lehane and Mark Penn, Obama and Oprah are appearing at a non-union venue (apparently blessed by the locals) and Oprah herself runs a non-union shop:

“‘Oprah isn’t shutting down,’ commented (Chicago Film Office director Rich) Moskal. Neither are the Jerry Springer, Judge Mathis and the new Steve Wilcos show.”

The reason these shows are not shutting down is either because they employ non-union writers, or have no need for writers. Is this fact something the Chicago film community should be celebrating? While there certainly is a place for non-union production in town, without the skill level fostered by union crews Hollywood would not be taking even a casual interest in the other things the city has to offer (such as interesting locations and cooperative film offices). The result would be that Chicago’s image as a film town would evaporate, and with it the infrasctructure and economic support that allows non-union projects to thrive.

In the case of Oprah, she belongs to three different craft unions herself (as a performer), yet refuses to allow union representation of any sort inside the doors of her studio, instead paying substandard wages and benefits to non-union crews. It is a travesty that Oprah feels no responsibility to those who helped her create her billions in profit, but that’s the way things are and it’s part of the reason union representation is so vital in this industry.

Democratic politicians have been playing both sides of this issue for a long time now and the unions have been equally ineffectual in protecting their own interests. Perhaps it's the best we could have hoped for in a conservative era. But that era is coming to a close and one of the most important things we do as progressives is to get working people to feel some solidarity with their fellows again, whether it's writers or auto workers or janitors.

The Jim Cramers of the world scream at the top of their lungs that the only way to raise stock prices is to screw American workers. But there are others, like this fellow, who disagree and he shows that other nations who have maintained a strong union movement have fared just as well economically as the US and that we will need more unionization, not less, if we want to thrive in this global economy. I believe him.

Democrats have to start drawing some bright lines on this issue. Unions are fundamental.


Update II:

Negotiations between striking Hollywood writers and studios collapsed Friday, the culmination of a day in which the sides traded barbs and accusations.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers announced that the round of talks that started Tuesday had broken down, stalling efforts to end the five-week strike that has sidelined many prime-time and late-night TV shows.

The alliance said it was "puzzled and disheartened" by the Writers Guild of America's ongoing negotiating strategy "that seems designed to delay or derail talks rather than facilitate an end to this strike."

Jesus. You can sure tell they've brought in the political flacks. Picture Karen Hughes saying that.

Update II: The article above regarding Oprah Winfrey's alleged non-union production company is unsubstantiated. We know that she employs at least one part time union member. It's possible that she employs many more. The allegations that she provides "substandard pay and benefits" is also unsubstantiated.

She is not a WGA signatory and is not recognizing the WGA strike.

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