The Guilds and other labor organizations in the entertainment and media industries have two signficant advantages. First, they are collective bodies that (generally) act with the legitimacy that only a democratic organization can provide. Second, only the Guilds can write achievements like higher residual rates into collective bargaining agreements that can be enforced across the board and long into the future – in other words, they can institutionalize gains for their members in a way that other forms of activity (such as using an individual agent or lawyer).
The Guilds are not business organizations seeking a profit. Businesses constantly suffer from the conflicts that profit seeking sets up as inevitable. The fracturing of the agents into two tiers described by the LA Times recently – with the high end looking more like producers everyday – reflects this kind of pressure. Democracy and transparency help overcome that fracturing in unions. When used effectively a union’s collective power can mobilize hundreds of thousands if not millions of people behind a collective bargaining agenda. That means the Guilds can, if they want, reshape the entire structure of the EMI sector. They have, in fact, already done that several times in the past. What other industry has the kind of collective agreements that cover professionals of such high skill? Very few. If used to confront the new delivery systems and financial structures the collective power of the Guilds can make gains that benefit all actors – stars or not.
At the end of the day, in fact, the agents, lawyers and managers know they are better off with the collective power of the Guilds establishing a base of wage rates, residuals, and working conditions upon which they can build rather than having no base at all. And presumably most successful actors know how difficult it is to count on the kind of success that top tier stars have and how fragile that is.
The collective power of the Guilds is critical to blocking a race to the bottom in the industry. That does not mean, of course, that among the agents – particularly at the top tier groups like ICM, WM, CAA and Endeavor – there is not a plan afoot to basically replace the Guilds with the agencies. the role benig played by some of the agencies amounts to a form of dual unionism with a company union in the form of the agents. This suggests that the effort to improving the relationship between the Agents and the Guilds will be a complex process.