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In response to the film and television writers’ strike, now in its twelfth week, Warner Bros. and ABC Studios are carrying out or preparing significant cutbacks.
Warner Bros., a unit of giant Time Warner, sent notices last week to approximately 1,000 television and film production workers warning that an unspecified number of layoffs would soon be announced.
ABC Studios has cancelled nearly two dozen production contracts, claiming force majeure (a clause in contracts covering events or circumstances beyond the control of one or both of the parties). According to the Hollywood newspaper Variety, this signifies a 25 percent reduction in ABC’s roster.
All the major studios had previously suspended such production deals, but ABC (owned by Disney) was the first to take the drastic step of ending them. There are media reports that the network is using the strike as an opportunity to downsize operations and even get rid of the pilot season entirely.
These are aggressive moves by the entertainment conglomerates, designed to make workers at all levels of the entertainment industry suffer the consequences of the writers’ walkout, which was provoked by the companies’ intransigence. In addition to saving money, the companies clearly hope that these actions will undermine support for the strike.
News of the cuts comes on the heels of the cancellation of the Golden Globes Awards ceremony, which was shut down by the refusal of numerous high-profile actors, members of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), to cross the Writers Guild (WGA) picket lines.
This was a blow to the studios and networks, currently bracing for the possible cancellation of the airing of the Academy Awards ceremony. If no settlement is reached in the next several weeks, either on a general contract or a temporary agreement for the night of the awards ceremony, it is likely that many SAG members will support the writers’ strike and refuse to attend.
Organizers of the Oscar ceremony claim they are intending to go ahead with the program, no matter what. Gil Cates, producer of the broadcast planned for February 24, told the Associated Press, “We are going to do it. I can’t elaborate on how we’re going to do it, because I don’t want anybody to deal with the elaboration in a way that might impact its success.” Significantly, Cates is also a chief negotiator for the Directors Guild of America (DGA), the outcome of whose negotiations with the studios and networks could undermine the writers’ struggle.
There have been no talks since the AMPTP walked out of the negotiations December 7. On January 11, George Clooney announced that he would attempt to set up a “mediation panel” to bring the two sides back to the bargaining table and help them come to a deal. He is trying to enlist the support of Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg and former WGA head John Wells, who was accused by rank-and-file members of selling out the writers on the DVD residual issue.
Whatever Clooney’s intentions, this kind of maneuver will be of no assistance to the writers. The stark reality is this: a number of massive corporations are determined to defeat the writers and send a message to every other worker in the industry. In the face of corporate ruthlessness, various efforts at conciliation and the tactical maneuvers of the WGA leadership have come to nothing.
The union has cut temporary deals with a number of smaller production companies, including David Letterman’s Worldwide Pants Production, Tom Cruise’s United Artists, and most recently, the firm owned by Harvey and Bob Weinstein.
These agreements have been presented by the WGA as victories and a sign of its reasonableness and ability to reach agreements—contrary to the claims of the AMPTP.
Such tactics will get the writers nowhere. Among the rank-and-file the effect has been to create tension, with some members angered over the fact that their colleagues are able to get back to work while they are still out on the picket lines. This can only serve to demoralize the strikers.
The pro-business Los Angeles Times pointed out in an editorial published on January 9 that the WGA’s deals with smaller companies were undermining its efforts.
“The deals mean some small amounts of revenue are again flowing for, respectively, CBS and MGM. As a result, those organizations have incrementally less incentive to give in,” opined the newspaper. “The guild’s argument seems to be that the independent deals will be a Trojan horse to get the writers’ demands inside the producers’ camp. But the Trojan horse is a made-up story. It doesn’t work in an actual fight,” they continued.
The shutting down of “Oscar Night” would not be a small matter. The ceremony is second only to the Super Bowl in the millions of dollars in advertising revenue it generates. In addition, its cancellation would result in losses for the local economy estimated at $130 million.
Moreover, the weeks of media hype in the lead-up to the Oscar ceremony, the endless pre- and post-event discussions of the fashions being paraded on the red carpet and the general fawning over the wealth and glitz of Hollywood are things that the entertainment elite is loath to give up, particularly under conditions in which wide layers of the population are becoming disaffected with the present state of everyday affairs. The cancellation of the Academy Awards due to a conflict between writers and their employers would remind people of certain social realities.
The WGA leadership is presenting the possibility that the strike could force the cancellation of the Oscar ceremony as a sign of the union’s strong position. Of course, such an eventuality would underscore the writers’ indispensable role and the support for their cause within Hollywood. But to imagine that this would deliver a decisive blow is an illusion.
The writers are engaged in a struggle with powerful elements of the American ruling elite. The defense of the writers’ interests demands nothing less than a stand against the companies and the entire socio-economic order of which they are a part. Such a struggle raises the need for a massive industry-wide mobilization, based on an appeal to all sections of Hollywood workers, to completely shut down the studios and networks and all their operations.
Most importantly, only a socialist outlook and strategy corresponds to the reality of the present situation. The conglomerates want to drive the majority of writers back to the conditions that existed prior to the formation of the Screen Writers Guild in the late 1930s, when writers were entirely at the mercy of their employers. Decent economic and cultural conditions depend on the transformation of the entertainment conglomerates into publicly-owned and democratically-run enterprises.
On the other side of the continent, picketing outside CBS Radford Studios in Studio City, California, Doug Allen, a comedy writer, told the WSWS:
“I think the strike will be successful in the end. We’ve seen how much money the studios are losing by not broadcasting the Golden Globes and their usual awards broadcasts. It shows that we’re hitting them.”
Many striking writers do have a sense of some of the larger political and economic issues in the strike.