We Have Not Ever Gained Anything Except by Pushing

05/25/2011 12:15 pm ET
  • Amy Spies Writer, teacher, activist - Film, Television, New Media.

Having moved from New York at age three because Lucy and Desi Arnez moved my parents out to Desilu Studios in Hollywood, I grew up with writers strikes galore, some that loomed, gloomed, and then somehow didn't materialize and everything kinda went back to business as normal. But some work stoppage dark clouds doomed, raining into reality; not knowing when the strikes would end became part of my and many other families shaky beyond even earthquake-vulnerable worlds. The strike of one piece of an industry obviously affects others: directors, producers, agents, managers, lawyers even: actors, casting people, the inappropriately labeled 'below the line' workers, the crafts services people, workers in nearby restaurants, the wardrobe people, get the idea. We all know, this is an industry town.

People often talk about the Writers Guild as a privileged union. It's true there are writers who make heaps of money. But of the 12,000 plus Writers Guild members, many are unemployed and/or dependent on residuals that have been hard-earned and often threatened.

Obviously, every battle has two sides. I am not saying the writers are right and the multi-conglomerate-whatever are wrong -- I just want to bring up that we, the writers (and probably most unions) have not ever gained anything except by pushing and sacrificing. Historically, in terms of Hollywood writers, this seems to have been the case.

I point people to an article by Pat Sierchio in 'Written By,' a Writers Guild journal admittedly, but an article that describes a 10-year battle that raged from 1933 to allow the Writers Guild to even exist and operate. Here are some choice quotes from Pat Sierchio's article:

"In response to Zanuck's assertion that the producer-dominated AMPAS provided the writers with protection, Dorothy Parker cracked, "Looking to the Academy for representation was like trying to get laid in your mother's house. Somebody was always in the parlor watching."

"Guild supporters like Hellman and Frances Goodrich Hackett retaliated by talking to the writers on the MGM lot during lunch breaks. They could not do it by phone because Thalberg had the wires tapped. It was dangerous to even discuss the SWG on studio grounds as an unofficial blacklist began on SWG supporters. "It was the first time I began to hear the word blacklist," said Philip Dunne."

"At the same time, the producers unleashed an offensive blitz against the Guild the week or so before the May 2 meeting. In What Makes Sammy Run, a fictionalized work dealing with this volatile period, author Budd Schulberg dubbed it "Ten Days That Shook Hollywood." (F. Scott Fitzgerald's unfinished novel, The Last Tycoon, also depicts Thalberg's war against the union.)"

"The battle raged on until finally in May 1941 the SWG unleashed the only blockbuster weapon they had-a strike vote! An armistice was called, and the top brass from each party met at the Brown Derby to hash out the treaty. Armed with the threat of a strike the SWG negotiated an agreement with producers, which reluctantly and belatedly recognized the Guild as the screenwriters' sole bargaining agent. On June 18, 1941, nine years after SWG was formed, their first contract was signed. It was 17 pages long".

"The final body count of writer casualties would not be determined until a few years later when the blacklist destroyed the careers of many of the Guild's proponents, including its founding father. But Lawson, who presided over the first SWG meeting in1933, was there at the final negotiation with the producers, this time in the role of a Guild board member. What must have seemed like the end of a long and fierce battle was just the beginning of an organization that today continues fighting for the rights of its 16,000 members".

"(Dalton) Trumbo, a veteran of the 10-year conflict, summed up the struggle in a 1946 letter: "Very rarely does victory for the individual writer raise the freedom level of his fellow writers. The fight for freedom of expression in Hollywood is inextricably tied up with the fight for economic security... But the job will not be accomplished in solitude by even the most gifted individual-it will be done by organized writers."

All I'm saying is...unlike the great snacks that are being wonderfully and generously handed out at the picketing sites and which we all completely appreciate and which buoy our spirits and our stomachs, economic, health care, and pension gains have been earned through the sweat and tears of demanding them as rights that we've been able to push forward by being united.

Read more about the strike on the Huffington Post's writers' strike page.