Back from the Brink? SAG Watch Calls for Strategic Compromise

In their first editorial, with a promise of more to come, the actors at SAG Watch have offered a hand to the Membership First leadership in the wake of the NEC vote (13-10) to campaign against the proposed deal between sister union AFTRA and the AMPTP.  
SAG Watch rightly points out that the results of the AFTRA vote on that proposed contract will not be announced until July 7, which allows SAG to push hard at the table for an improved deal without providing the industry any increased leverage against them. Sure AFTRA leaders made the best deal they thought possible, but that does not mean there isn’t still an opportunity for SAG to improve upon it.
This subtlety, however, was obviously lost on those under the influence of what longtime card holder Sally Stevens says in a recent letter to SAG is a “mafia mentality.”  This is reminiscent of the tone deafness of some to the relationship with the WGA which might have been able to delay its talks and strike until now if SAG had been focused on the employers rather than on an internal war against AFTRA late last year.
I am not overly optimistic that the eminently reasonable suggestion coming from SAG Watch will find a welcome audience – anything reasonable that suggests a constructive step forward also suggests that the entire membership of SAG could move forward TOGETHER which some in Membership First might view as a threat to their hold on power.
Of course, solidarity should be the heart and soul of the Guild. It certainly has been ever since Guild founder Eddie Cantor uttered these  important words when actors were first attempting to find the courage to step forward as one:
“I’ve apparently come here,” he said, “under a misconception. If this organization isn’t one that’s going to help every man, woman, and child in the industry, I’ll say good night!” He didn’t have to say good night. Some of them sheepishly, some of them angrily, every star and featured player in the room fell in with Cantor’s demand.
(From Hollywood Is a Union Town By Morton Thompson, The Nation, April 2, 1938.)
To move forward together as one Guild in fraternal unity with its sister labor organizations would undermine the raison d’etre of those in Membership First who cling to that “mafia mentality.”
SAG Watch argues – again with eminent reasonableness – that the source of that hardened heart may be a result of the divisions created by the 2000 commercials strike, about the results of which reasonable minds certainly can differ.
I would suggest – hopefully with as much reasonableness – that another view point has taken hold in the Guild that also helps explain the current impasse.  I would summarize it as the “all or nothing” approach to bargaining that took hold because of the “original sin” in Guild history: the 80/20 home video (now DVD) residuals formula.  The fear today – again, as with the commercial strike, an arguably reasonable fear – is that any formula established in this year’s deals will be the formula for the “rest of days” (to quote D.H. Lawrence).
But that need not be the case again today. In fact, it is more likely to be the case to the extent that the Guild takes that view. To rev up the membership – or attempt to do so – in order to achieve what the MF leadership might think is the perfect formula misses the fact that collective bargaining is a long term strategic campaign. There is every bit as much an opportunity to organize new work as it emerges, to improve upon older formulas as new technology takes hold, over time as there is in any one negotiating round. 
To take the view that it is “now or never” or “all or nothing,” as I think some do, is to open up the door to a permanent defeat as much as a permanent victory.  The disappointment and demoralization that can take hold in the wake of falling short of what is posed, falsely, as the ultimate goal can undermine the longer term ability of the Guild to expand its presence and to create in today’s parlance, a much larger footprint.
Today, that footprint can be global and can potentially encompass tens of thousands of other creative workers. And, I think a serious long term strategy can alter the DVD formula and help the Guild restructure any new formulas that come along. As one example, it is very possible that what is today considered “new media” will by 2011 not even exist physically. What, then, is the purpose of a head long crash into the wall facing the Guild today?  That wall was built not by the producers but by a “go it alone” strategy that likely gained credibility in the wake of many years of prior missteps in Guild history. But it is an old injury and a limited remedy that drives this narrow and sectarian strategy today.
Unless that all or nothing mentality gives way to a comprehensive strategic approach in solidarity with the Guild’s sister unions (all of them), as long as some in the Guild allow “the perfect to be the enemy of the good” the Guild could find itself in a downward spiral that brings the “end of days” (to quote the Talmud).

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