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Monday, December 4, 2023

Opinion

Why strikes matter, how you can support them


Two strike signs in the air, one showing a raised fist holding a pen, another showing "fair pay for writers"

Jose Gonzalez-Campelo/The Cougar

This past week, the Writers Guild of America ended their multi-week strike with a decisive union victory. While the Screen Actors Guild has yet to reach a conclusion to their strike, this win demonstrates exactly how effective strikes can be and why they should be supported.

The WGA strike, which was the second longest in the history of the guild, won significant improvements for Hollywood screenwriters including paying writers based on a show’s streaming performance, minimum writer requirements for shows and employment length guarantees.

What this means is that the writers who produce your favorite content, from “Game of Thrones” to “Pretty Little Liars”, can now potentially live off the money made from these projects. Contrary to popular belief, television writers have been extremely underpaid, especially in the streaming era.

While the strike was successful in multiple categories, it did not come without cost. Multiple TV series and movies were put on hold or canceled, writers went without pay for months and critics of the strike have blamed the WGA for a significant drop in viewer numbers.

It can be easy to look at strikes as risky, high-cost ventures without much benefit, but the truth is that many of the freedoms American workers have today were won through striking unions. While these unions had their issues, their willingness to fight for their rights changed history.

Take for example the 1890 Battle of Blair Mountain, which some historians have described as “the closest thing America has ever had to a full-blown class war.” In West Virginia, the local coal miners’ union occupied the mines in protest over low wages, workplace safety and other issues.

What followed was an incredibly bloody battle as the miners took up arms against local police and eventually federal troops. In the end, the miners surrendered to the federal forces, and several dozen people on all sides lay dead.

But despite the immense death toll, the miners won in several key areas. For one, they defied racist ideas of the time by joining across racial lines, even desegregating food halls at gunpoint. Beyond that, their efforts and those of unions like them won Americans rights like the eight-hour workday.

In 2023, union efforts are a bit less intense than taking up arms against mine owners. The modern-day labor movement has declined in power significantly, with only one in ten American workers unionized, a sharp drop from one in three workers in the 1950s.

With valid concerns raised over issues like union corruption and groups like police unions protecting alleged abusers, it can be easy to dismiss union efforts as a thing of the past.

But for every potential downside unions may have, the alternative is inarguably worse. In so-called “right to work” states like Texas where it does not require individuals to join a union, state law has left unions significantly weaker. The end result was not “increased worker freedom” but rather lower wages for both union and non-union workers.

At the end of the day, massive corporations care about their bottom line first and foremost. They will gladly lie to and hurt workers if it serves their purposes. For example, several of the wins made by the WGA were previously declared to be “completely unfeasible” by higher-up executives.

The path ahead is uncertain for many industries, especially in the midst of state attacks on education and the continued decline of the humanities. Bold moves like strikes are full of uncertainties as well. Putting your livelihood on the line is not something to take lightly.

But at the end of the day, we only have each other. So whether it’s boosting strike demands from auto workers or taking a break from TV to support your favorite actors, now might just be the time to stand along the pickup line and join the call of “Solidarity Forever.”

Malachi Key is a Journalism senior who can be reached at [email protected].

 

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