Looking Backwards: The WGA Strike One Year On

It’s been a year since the WGA strike was finally settled. Variety has a series of stories that looks back at what happened and why.

One of the most penetrating assessments comes from the WGA’s former NED, John McLean. Of course, McLean was kicked out of the WGA in order to make way for the new leadership. But he is a veteran of both sides of the bargaining table and even discounting for what some might call sour grapes, what he has to say is worth paying attention to.

He makes clear that a fundamental problem in the industry remains the divisions among the Guilds. In particular he points to the fact that once the WGA was pushed out on strike they fell prey to the DGA doing a deal. That, in turn, made SAG’s situation untenable. And none of the Guilds had a chance at improving on the DVD formula or establishing a reasonable settlement on new media once the AMPTP could pick them off one at a time.

Here is a worthwhile excerpt:

Q: What did SAG do wrong?

A: SAG failed to heed the Godfather’s advice to his son — “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” SAG allowed their friends at the WGA to strike prematurely and their adversaries at AFTRA to go off and make their own deal. Once WGA and AFTRA made their deal, SAG’s position was untenable. SAG has lost this game and they need to get focused on the next game. SAG needs to heal its rift with AFTRA. Any time two unions share the same jurisdiction, they need to stand together or it will be a race to the bottom.

McLean can be forgiven the mixed metaphors. It is clear that SAG’s “go it alone” attitude, pushed by a small cartel inside the Membership First group and implemented by their hired gun, Doug Allen, left them irreparably weakened.

There is also a revealing comment on the McLean interview from the WGA’s David Young. Naturally he tries to defend the tactical choices he and WGA President Patric Verrone made. Among the factors he contends justified the early strike, alone without SAG, is that it allowed the Writers “to avoid SAG’s internal problems.”

This is the first on the record explanation I have seen that supports my long-standing contention that the WGA, which had given serious thought to working without a contract until SAG’s contract expired, in fact, was so concerned about the anti-AFTRA strategy of Doug Allen and Membership First, that they were willing to strike alone.

I would only add that the SAG MF leadership never took into account what it would mean to have its own members be out of work for 100 days when the WGA went out. They seemed to have assumed that the rank and file of SAG is made up of, well, not ordinary working Americans, but imaginary revolutionaries possessed of super human resources that they could turn on and off at will.

In light of recent events it appears that MF has no intention of trying to learn from its mistakes.  Until it does, the Guild will drift at best and slide downward into oblivion at worst since even the New Majority cannot lead the Guild on its own. 

Perhaps it is time for the rank and file of Membership First to reconsider what their movement is all about and how they can achieve their goals. The current leaders, now wasting their money and that of the Guild in a pointless law suit, haven’t a clue.