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Why the WGA was Right and SAG is Wrong

12/26/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

There's a scene in Good Will Hunting when Will says that his foster father used to put a wrench, a stick and a belt on the table and said choose one. Robin Williams says that if it were him, he'd go with the belt. Will says he picked the wrench every time. Why? "Because f*ck him, that's why."

The dialog is satisfying because we've all been in a situation where clinging to our dignity felt worth whatever sacrifice had to be made. But how many times as a child were we told not to cut off our nose to spite our face? That's what Will does in picking the wrench and that's what SAG does if they choose to strike.

I was a staunch supporter of the Writers Guild strike. I picketed, organized, and wrote extensively about our very peculiar and vital labor movement. I gave up a lot of income during the strike, along with so many others, because I believed in it. And as strongly as I felt in favor of the necessary Writer's Guild Strike, I feel just as strongly in opposition to a reckless and dangerous Screen Actors Guild strike.

Much has happened in the last year. Namely, the most significant and crippling economic disaster in almost a century. And our industry specifically is still on its knees as a result of the WGA strike. While TV viewership is up this year, movie-going will very likely fall off considerably in the next twelve months as people have less disposable income. Our "recession proof" industry is nothing of the sort when people can't afford to buy a movie ticket.

The WGA had the sympathies of many others in the industry, the talk show hosts, the politicians, and the activists. Where have those people been through the many months of this current dispute? Crickets. At a time when the UAW is being called upon by many to take a hard look at its labor agreements as the auto industry falters, how can SAG justify such a dangerous and doomed attempt to improve upon a deal that was won in a completely different economy, after a bitter strike?

SAG has not refuted the AMPTP's assertion that they've been offered the same deal that the WGA and the DGA agreed to. Our membership signed off on that deal after four months of a painful work stoppage. Yes, of course the deal should have been better. But many of us believed it was the best we could do at the time. Many also felt that any benefit to continuing the strike was far outweighed by the clear and present need to get the town back to work. And that was then. The time we're in now isn't more hospitable to a work stoppage or a better deal. The only thing SAG's timing is more hospitable to is home foreclosure.

So, why does SAG's leadership want a strike authorization? I can only go by what they're saying. SAG President Alan Rosenberg said in an interview yesterday, "We deserve our day in the room. We never got that."

Every now and then someone will say the thing they're really thinking. If you were writing this as a screenplay you might call it a rising subtext. "We deserve our day in the room. We never got that." Maybe I'm a bit cynical, but what I hear in that sentence is not one man's desire for a moment in the room, but for a moment in the sun.

Mr. Rosenberg says that the strike authorization isn't intended to result in a strike, but to provide strength in the negotiation. Where have we heard that before? The authorization for war in Iraq? Beware of the leader who asks for power he hopes to never use. I want to believe that Mr. Rosenberg is purely committed to his members, but there is too much at stake right now to blindly give him the benefit of the doubt.

I still feel that the WGA strike was the right thing at the right time, but context is everything. The context we're in now is that our industry is still staggering from billions lost in the last strike. Millions of people around the country have seen their pensions evaporate with their home values. We're spending trillions of our children's money in bailouts as other industries crumble around us. And the employees of those companies, not incidentally, also happen to be our audience.

Context is everything. Anyone who doesn't realize that today's context is nothing short of terrifying, and chooses the wrench over pragmatism, doesn't deserve their "day in the room." More to the point, they've clearly not yet stepped outside of the room.