Why Mike Farrell’s Email Matters

SAG President Alan Rosenberg dismisses the critique issued by Mike Farrell of the Membership First’s “strategy” as “ignorant.” Aside from being intemperate – fans of President Rosenberg would be disappointed by anything less – this reaction gets to the heart of why the road taken by Membership First’s leadership is doomed. 
MF makes the mistake of thinking that labor conflict is won by tough talk and action against the employer. This is wrong. Labor wins when it is internally united. A united labor organization is a force to be reckoned with and only rarely will an employer risk confronting that unity in open battle. This has been demonstrated time and again throughout labor history.
But internal labor unity is an elusive goal. A leadership that tramples over the internal dynamics of its own union has no chance of reaching that goal. Such is the case with Membership First.
A union can win a tough battle when there are a few outliers (as there always are) – those hard core pro-employer types who are always for concessions. But that’s not Farrell, a stalwart Guild member, activist and leader for decades. Without the Farrell’s of the world there is no union.
Farrell represents an intelligent and moderate approach to the negotiations. While Rosenberg dismisses Farrell’s perspective as “ignorant” what he should understand is that it means the three years of his leadership has failed to convince Farrell and the many thousands who no doubt share his outlook that the Membership First road is the one to take.
The MF obsession with talking tough has meant the Guild has failed to make their case, and that is vital. As I wrote two years ago as the current round of bargaining was about to get underway:
…if Guild leaders do not develop an argument about how the industries they work in are changing and how Guild members create value in that environment, then a vacuum is created in your own membership. And the employers will try to fill that vacuum. In fact, they are already trying to do so. Nic Counter attempted to do so in his [recent] Hollywood Reporter interview.

It was two years ago that Counter and the AMPTP started laying the groundwork for their argument. Then, and now, they make the same argument about immature business models, etc.  Now they are reaping the bounty they have sowed. Farrell, of course, has not fallen for their propaganda, but he understands the damage done by the inability of the current Guild leadership to respond to it effectively.
A few months ago I outlined a strategy that might have succeeded in this time frame and helped the Guild achieve the internal unity it needed for victory. Instead of considering that approach and, no doubt, many other ideas brought to them by others closer to the current situation, Membership First has lurched towards the cliff’s edge.