How much do you want to surrender America to the corporations?
Think about this carefully. This writers strike affects you. Wherever you are, whatever you do, this is going to affect you.
You may say, "But I’m not a writer," or "I don’t watch TV, films," or "I barely use the Internet." Doesn’t matter. In fact, the corporations are pretty much counting on you not realizing this is about you. (I hope you read Alex’s post yesterday explaining it and Guyot’s comment in the response section, because they nailed the cause and cost.)
Now some of you are thinking, "Wait a minute. How big a deal could this actually be? It’s not on the news, no one’s jumping all over this nationally, and if it was really going to affect Americans, someone would have noticed, right?"
12 thousand+ people are on strike. Friday, nearly 4000 people showed up for the WGAw (Writers Guild of America, West) rally in Century City. 4000. Many thousand crew members are going to lose their jobs, and yet, many of them support the WGA’s position. Teamsters are not crossing the picket lines. SAG (Screen Actors Guild) is 100% in support of the WGA.
You know what the lead story on MSNBC was Friday night (owned, I believe, by GE)? That Brittney Spears’ attorney–who was the same attorney for that wacky dead Anna Nicole Smith–had had to sue Anna Nicole’s estate because he hadn’t been paid for hours he’d worked for that estate. The only thing they didn’t bother to begin that little piece of vital information with was, "Dear America, here’s how stupid we think you are: this is what you want to know about."
They (MSN) eventually mentioned the stirke when they announced Schwarzenegger’s comments, (the whole coverage by NIkki Finke has been stellar–page down below first comic), which lumped all writers into the millionaire status, as if they were dilettantes who were simply out to hurt anyone who didn’t give them what they wanted. It’s the position the corporations would love America to take: that if those bratty writers would just quit being so selfish, all of this would be over and people wouldn’t have to be hurt. The average guild writer earns in the vicinity of $61K a year. Average, meaning, statistically, half of them earn below that. But wait–do the math–the bigger salaries of the few top writers/showrunners are averaged into that figure as well, and so that means that a much larger percentage of the actual guild members earn far far below that figure. Many of them have second jobs to try to pay the bills. Do you realize how many people have to make below poverty level in order to get an average of $61K when the few bigger writers’ salaries are included? These writers are not dilettantes. They are struggling to survive, to keep their bills paid.
How is it that 4000 people can rally for two hours with helicopters flying overhead (as seen in Stee’s video) and it’s not a major headline on every channel? We know that Lindsay Lohan is out of rehab. We know the latest thing Brittney is doing or not wearing. This strike is going to cost hundreds of millions of dollars, it’s going to affect the economy. If thousands of people are out of work in one of the major US cities, the domino effect is going to start: the mortgage woes that are already bad? Going to get worse. More bankruptcies, more lenders losing money, more ripple effects outward. This will hit Wall Street, which will in turn touch the rest of the economy. And yet, this is not being discussed on your nightly news.
According to Nikki Finke, the strike barely rated a 655 word report in the L.A. Times business section. 655 words. 12,000 people on strike in the industry that spends millions of dollars every single day in that particular state, mostly in the L.A. Times area and they buried the story in the business section? I don’t know about you, but I’m not really sensing the bravery there. If they’re quashing a story this big, right here in America, what do you think they’re hiding elsewhere?
The corporations own the news stations. The corporations are anti-guild, and would like to break the guilds. Think I’m exaggerating? (I’ll get to why that matters to you.) The corporations had months to negotiate with the writers guild, and they refused to budge one single iota. As Alex and others commented yesterday, they were actually asking for rollbacks, big honking cuts in what the writers currently get. Now, maybe you’d think, "Oh, well they’re asking for that because they’re hurting, not making any money. The economy is kinda scary right now." At the same time they were asking for rollbacks, here are two of the current headlines / facts, which they confirmed or reported:
"Viacom’s Profits Shoots Up 80%"
[Disney’s Bob Iger] boasts about "another year of outstanding financial results. We posted record net income and record earnings per share for our 2007 fiscal year, bolstered by a strong 4th quarter performance. These results stem directly from our emphasis on the creation of high-quality content across all of our businesses, backed up by a clear strategy for maximizing the value of that content across platforms and markets."
That’s an 8 with a 0 on it up there. Eighty percent. Does anyone out there actually believe that one of the reasons for the uptick in profits has nothing to do with distributing content over the Internet? (If so, seriously, nice rock you’ve been living under. Love what you did with the curtains.)
The AMPTP, the corporations, actually claimed that no one knows what’s going to happen with "this Internet thing"–that it was "too new" to be able to predict how the income would work or even if it would work. I’m kinda impressed with that stunning ability to be that creative, actually, in the face of blatant profits. Jon Robin Baitz (a showrunner for the TV series, Brothers & Sisters) wrote in his open letter to Schwarzenegger that:
The deeply insupportable position they have taken in adopting a blanket refusal to address the economics of new media with us is laughable. Even as they insist to their stockholders that this revenue stream is the hope and reality of their future. To insist on two entirely contradictory positions is either morally bankrupt, or simply profoundly amateurish.
Because they claimed they could not know if there was ever going to be a profit from the Internet… (Okay, an aside… they don’t know? Really? That whole iTunes thing just flew right by them? This Google thing, and YouTube thing, a complete mystery?)… anyway, since they don’t "know" if this whole "distribute stuff on the Internet" platform could be profitable, the corporations want to give, literally, ZERO, to the people who create the content which gets distributed on the Internet. So the writers said, "If you don’t make money, fine, we don’t make money. All we’re asking for is a percentage, not a flat fee per show. Just a percentage. And a teeny tiny one at that." The corporations said no.
The reason they did that? It’s not just about the internet downloads of today. They’re looking to what’s about to happen. Everything is going to be on the Internet soon. Your computer and TV will likely merge into one unit within the next five years. It already has merged for many of the twenty-something generation: they are only bringing their laptops to campus and downloading TV through their cable connections. If the corporations don’t have to pay anyone for Internet downloads, they make 100% profit.
They will make billions in advertising. With no cost of delivery, because the customer pays for the cable bill. No DVDs to cut and distribute. Huge profit margin, because it can play on infinite "channels" any time a customer clicks on the site. The normal residuals paid to a writer now for re-runs on TV? Will disappear. The re-runs will soon be able to fall under the "Internet promotion" description if the corporations have their way. Isn’t that a neat trick? Pay the writers tiny minimums initially, force them to accept zero dollars for the Internet by waiting them out in this strike (while firing the crews, laying off staff), and then when the writers are starving and losing their houses, they’ll have to accept zero compensation just to have a contract. By the time they have recovered, assuming they do, all delivery of content will be through the Internet and no one will have to pay those pesky TV residuals–so they’ll get everything even cheaper.
The corporations walked away from the negotiating table, and Nick Counter, their chief negotiator, has stated emphatically that they will not return to the negotiating table unless the strike is called off. They absolutely would not negotiate before the strike was called. Why on earth would anyone delude themselves that they would give anything if everyone went back to work? They wouldn’t need to: they would have immediately won. They want to break the guild, and to do so, they forced the strike.
The corporations walked away. They won’t come back. They know it’s going to hurt a lot of people. But they are the plantation owners of today, asking the writers to take very small minimums for the show (barely living expenses) and make nothing later while they make a fortune. They’re protected by their wealth. The corporations have billions of dollars and plenty of insurance and except for those pesky stockholders, they are pretty much beholden to no one. Many people suspect they have every intention of waiting it out. In fact, not only will they use force majeure to cancel contracts without penalty, a lot of industry people assert they wanted the strike in order to use the clause. (Why do you think they came to the table on that last day, promised to negotiate if the writers gave up the DVD raise request and, when the writers did give that up… the corporations did not give back anything? Nothing. They got what they asked for (drop the 4 cent DVD raise request). Instead, they waited ’til the strike deadline and then walked away. They did it so that they could use force majeure: the clause that allows them to cancel contracts if there is an ‘unexpected’ work stoppage. If they appeared to be trying to prevent this stoppage [i.e., coming to the table to supposedly negotiate], they could look horrified when the strike went ahead and they then had legal justification to use the force majeure clause.)
So how does this affect you?
Aside from the ripple effect on the economy, and that’s going to be big, and aside from the fact that culture will forever change if we lose the really good writers in TV and film and are subjected to more and more corporate excuses for advertising, or Advertainment, every corporation in America is watching to see if the unions will cave. Where the writers go, the country will follow. Health care, pensions–unions will have a harder and harder time holding onto them if this big union falls. (I’m not working for a corporation, you say. I don’t benefit. If the corporations keep growing unchecked and without having to have any responsibility to the individual, then you’ll be affected. What you buy, what you eat, your health-care options–will all change.)
Now someone out there is naively going to utter the "free enterprise" argument. And I’ll say this: it’ll be free all right. When the corporations don’t have to pay the creators to use the content, the creators will have no control over their content. When the corporations have control of all information delivery–and they’re demonstrating their muscle now–how far away is it that they snap up all of the delivery systems of the Internet? How soon before censorship and control is exerted, because they have the content? If they control the content, they control the country. Period. And you, my friend, will be irrelevant. You, your children, our grandchildren.
So how much do you want to surrender America?
The only way the corporations are going to come back to the table early–in time to keep millions of people from being harmed–is if they feel the kick in their shins, in their profits. Stop watching TV online. Write to an advertiser (surely there is something you bought that you saw on TV), write to a corporation, sign a petition, write to a NEWS ENTITY and ask them why aren’t they covering it?
Your country is changing, right in front of your eyes. This is a chance to do something about it.
Do you care?