Michael Everett from IA Progressives responds to a phone interview given by the president of his union.
WRITERS' DEMANDS SET OFF SHORT FUSE
By DAN COX
NEW YORK -- Thomas Short thinks the Writers Guild of America is full of hot air. "Their issues are clearly unclear to me," he said in a phone interview with Daily Variety from his L.A. office. The prexy of the Intl. Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees denounced the WGA's strike goals as hazy and wrongheaded.
Maybe they're unclear to Tom Short, but to anyone with Internet access they're spelled out in the greatest of detail on the WGA web site http://www.wga.org/ and you don't need to be a rocket scientist to understand them. They involve the same thing we're all concerned about -- more money from an industry that's squeezing every last penny out of those who create the products the media monopolies are marketing around the globe. The writers are justifiably concerned about residuals, the DVD/home video market, the Internet, etc. etc.
"If anybody thinks I'm going to support an institution that is trying to obtain unobtainable proposals in a collective bargaining process -- I don't mind getting on a bus, but not on a bus without a driver that's going over a cliff."
And how about the IA bus? Apparently it has a sign that reads, "Do not talk to driver." And it's long since driven over the cliff if wages and conditions are any measure. I've yet to hear of any writers working for $7.49 an hour.
He pointed to the squabbling over things like "a film by" credits and access to the set as senseless.
Senseless to Tom Short perhaps, but who is he to judge what's important to a sister union? Check out the WGA website for a thorough discussion on this subject, one paragraph of which follows:
"The motion picture is the most collaborative of all art forms. Hundreds of artists and workers participate in the production of any movie. Though some indisputably make more substantial contributions than others, it is absurd and flat out wrong to call any one person the "author" of a movie. Yet that is what possessory credits do. The "Film By" credit implies that one person--the director--is the author of a motion picture."
"Last time I checked, there was a reason why they called a director a director," he said. "Who's the gaffer going to talk to, the writer or the director? Who's the director of photography going to talk to, the writer or the director?
Hopefully, the Gaffer will continue to talk to the Director of Photography, and the Director can talk to the writer if he or she wishes. Nothing in the WGA demands calls for a usurpation of the Directors position of "captain of the ship."
You can't disrupt an industry entirely like that. You're not even dealing with egos here. You're dealing with megalomaniacs." Furthermore, Short doesn't trust the writers to be honest to their union if >they actually go on strike.
Apparently Tom Short doesn't trust anyone other than the producers who he likes to call, his "friends across the table." Name calling and attacks on sister unions divide us and dilute our collective power. The central problem of Hollywood labor from the very beginning has been the failure to unite all workers against the producers and the chief culprit in this self destructive divisiveness has always been, and remains today the IA.
"If the Writers Guild strikes, they're still going to be out writing scripts under assumed names. So it's laughable," he said.
The WGA, in its fourth week of contract talks with studios and networks, had no comment about Short's remarks. The WGA contract expires May 2. If the writers settle, Short thinks SAG will follow with a settlement as well. But if the writers don't settle and SAG does, then the scribes could be out of luck, he said.
For the good of us all, let's hope they both win without a strike, but why undercut our sister unions now with anti-union remarks like this? If SAG and WGA win gains, we can hope to follow with our own gains when our contract comes up.
But he maintained the scribes should exert a more powerful influence on the thesps, if only because their contract will be handled first. "Writers have a tremendous amount of influence with (SAG president William) Daniels," Short said.
As for SAG, the rambunctious IA topper, who has nearly gone on strike with his 100,000-plus IA workers in years past, thinks the guild needs to create a better internal structure or just improve its public relations.
"Nearly" gone on strike? I don't think so. We had a strike authorization a couple of contracts back, but the IA hasn't gone on strike since the 1930's and that's why we're in the mess we're in now. "Rambunctious"? Hardly. Tom Short presides over a union that has given away just about everything that can be given away. And as for a better internal structure, can anyone name a union with a worse internal structure than the top-down structure of IATSE?
"It appears to almost everybody that organization has imploded in their infrastructure," Short said. "It's kind of like, who's in charge?
We don't have that problem in the IA, because we know who's in charge and it's definitely not the members -- it's President-for-Life Tom Short -- a labor boss who's never stood election before the members, who gives himself outrageous raises, who attacks other unions, who is now asking for a dues raise and a lengthening of his term of office, who refuses to deal with the runaway jobs issue, who opposed the election of John Sweeney to the AFL-CIO, who refused to oppose the China trade bill, etc. etc. etc.
"I know they have not been at the bargaining table. The only way you settle a contract, the last time I checked, is at the bargaining table," he added.
Check again Tom. If you want a contract with real gains, you settle it by mobilizing the rank and file. You settle it on the streets and on the picket lines. You settle it with corporate campaigns, consumer boycotts, and creative tactics. What you get across the table with your corporate "friends" is peanuts and peanuts are all we've gotten since the 1980's. This bus is out of gas and our union is badly in need of new leadership if we expect to feed our families in the months and years ahead.
The below-the-line workers are said to be unenthused about supporting potential writers and actors strikes because when the IATSE threatened to strike, SAG and the WGA were nowhere to be found.
Says who? Tom Short? And when SAG struck, where was IATSE? The answer was, we were crossing their picket lines. When will this cycle end? If we don't support SAG and WGA now, how can we possibly ask them to support us when our contract comes up?
SAG's threat of a work stoppage was bolstered by the six-month duration of its commercial strike last summer, but Short said the strategy was equally opaque.
"It wasn't clear what (SAG's) strategy was during the commercial strike," he said. "Another unobtainable proposal. And they have convinced themselves that they have won in that dispute."
Short nonetheless backed SAG -- but not until four months into the strike, after Daniels called Short and asked for help.
Tom Short's afraid of SAG and doesn't want his own union infected by SAG's mobilization of its own members, nor does he want us supporting a sister union that subscribes to the radical notion that its leaders should be elected by its members.
SAG's film-TV contract expires July 1 and it has blamed producers' late delivery of residuals data for being unable to set a start date for negotiations. SAG has insisted it can be ready to begin talks early next month on non-residual matters.
"We are very mindful of the impact the commercials strike had beyond our members," SAG spokesman Greg Krizman. "We're very aware of our responsibility."
The confusion at SAG may be its ultimate undoing, said Short. Short said the guild went first to Michael Ovitz to negotiate its contract. (Ovitz was unavailable for comment.) Then, Short added, it considered former secretary of state Madeleine Albright and, ultimately, former president Bill Clinton.
Said Short: "That sums it all up, to be honest."
But Krizman said that none of the trio were contacted by SAG to his knowledge. The union will decide on a negotiator within a week.
Tom Short's attacks on behalf of the producers against our sister unions will not go unnoticed in the broader labor movement and will come back to haunt us in future contract negotiations of our own. Such public attacks on our sister unions -- unions with which we work side by side and with which we have no jurisdictional disputes -- are unprecedented in modern labor history.
To borrow from the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, "we are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny." Tom Short's denial of that reality and his attempts to shred that "garment of destiny" are foolish and wrongheaded and can only be construed as designed to curry favor with his "friends across the table" at the expense of our sister unions.
If Tom Short has reservations about SAG and WGA contract demands, he should keep them to himself and not blather them to the trades, but it's too late now. The damage is done, and it's us, the captive passengers of the IA bus, who will pay in time.
Michael Everett IA Progressives