Sunday, December 02, 2007


Another email from my Shield brother that brings more clarity. Grateful for the insight in the following message (it’s long, but worth the read). It’s given me a much needed boost in the confidence of our leadership and our tactics. I may record it on a disk so I can play it over and over again in my car. Where I spend a lot of time these days. In traffic. Not writing.

Tim Lea writes:

Hey all --

So the AMPTP has responded. Four days of 'meetings', and the resulting offer is a strange hybrid of calculated low-balling, contempt and picaresque fantasy that would better become a Voltaire novel than an early 21st-century labor negotiation. The details of the 'deal' are by now familiar to you all (if not, has the skinny), and we are being engaged in a way that ups the stakes considerably. At , the post 'More Clarification...' provides a pithy summary of where we are..

It may seem that we are dealing with an irrational entity. The damage they are doing to our industry far exceeds any bottom line financial impact that would result from acceding to our demands. Calculations vary, but estimates of how much this strike is costing the studios run as high as $20 million dollars a week in lost production, lost revenue, penalty clauses in advertising commitments, etc. Over the course of the contract we're currently attempting to negotiate, the Guild's proposals will cost the Studios some odd shy of $200 million dollars. On the surface, it doesn't add up.

The obvious insanity of blowing up the entertainment industry defies logical explanation, which makes clear the salient point: we're not yet dealing with the people who are in a position to say 'Yes'. We face a group, the AMPTP, whose self-described mission is to "function as a bargaining unit for over 350 signatory companies.” (Check out their website -- it's a hoot: They don't actually make anything. Their sole function is to 'bargain'. In other words, their job is to say 'No' for the studios.

The reason we are talking to this group, and not to the actual decision-makers, is that the studios and corporations they represent are not yet ready to negotiate. They calculate that they have time before this year's TV season is irrevocably damaged, and that they have a little more time before pilot season for the 08-09 season is under threat. With the added and increasing pressure on show-runners as force majeure clauses kick in, the studios hope to dent our resolve in the execution of the strike, and to create fatal divisions within our membership.

There is nothing irrational or random about any of this. The first entry in a Google search of the term Union Busting provides a link to the home page of a union-busting firm. They're quite up front: "It's about winning," they say:

"Since 1987, Adams, Nash, Haskell & Sheridan has assisted hundreds of employers in thousands of engagements always protecting the employers' rights to continue to manage…unobstructed by unions or other outside third parties that can destroy productivity, profitability, and the joy of the direct relationship between an employer and its employees."

The "joy" of the direct relationship? These guys have never been on a notes call. Anyhoo, although the above mission statement is syntactically incoherent, the point is clear: there is an industry devoted to union-busting with refined strategies for dealing with union activity. And for a price, they'll pack their kitbags and show up, ready to take on whatever union they're pointed at. They have bullet points:

Most strikes are won or lost before they begin. Preparation is often the best deterrent.

Employers must know where they are before deciding to allow a strike. Our Labor Dispute Audit® [somebody wrote that! ] form will assist in that evaluation.

Almost all strikes bring with them the union's corporate campaign. Our counter corporate campaign helps the client keep its varied stakeholders onboard.

Maintaining operational effectiveness is the key to withstanding the effects of a work stoppage.

ANHS identifies the key issues a struck company faces. It is significant that in all these areas, the WGA strike is already having a huge impact. The studios were unprepared; they were caught in an untenable production cycle; they were caught by surprise by our PR blitz and are suffering substantial hits to their share values; and they are completely unable to maintain output without our active participation.

We have been effective, so the second phase of their crisis management has kicked in. They are now trying to break the strike. This tactical adjustment merely is another aspect of their overall strategy, which is to gain control over 'New Media' by breaking the unions. First us, then the rest. The Internet will be a non-union town.

The tactics of this past week have been about breaking the strike. Raise hopes, dash them. Present an 'Economic Partnership', then plead helplessness as we reject their proposals. (Key elements, which bear further discussion in another forum, of which an example: they told us five months ago that fixed residual formulas were too onerous for New Media; we proposed a percentage formula -- you make money we make money [and the obvious reverse]; they come back with a fixed residual formula. Even the federal mediator remarked that this seemed a little crazy.)

Other tactics: the violated press blackout. Who leaked information to Nikki Finke? Clearly not one of us, because its tone was merely a breathless prelude to the AMPTP's announcement that they had "unveiled a New Economic Partnership to the WGA, which includes groundbreaking moves in several areas of new media, including streaming, content made for new media and programming delivered over digital broadcast channels..."

A profoundly effective tactic: our membership reads Nikki Finke, the AMPTP leaks details of an impending breakthrough in the talks, we get pumped and relieved, then when there's nothing, we're all heartbroken. The hope being, of course, that we will blame the leadership, thus dividing the Guild.

In his book "Confessions of a Union Buster", Martin Jay Levitt details the techniques he learned in his many years attacking unions. A key element is the demoralization of the union members during any industrial action against the company. Taking away people's hopes, their aspirations for a quick resolution to any labor dispute – that was Levitt's job. "If you [can] make the union fight drag on long enough, workers...lose faith, lose interest, lose hope.” This from a recognized expert in the field of union-busting.

According to Robert Muehlenkamp, an SEIU Local 1199 organizer at Harper Grace hospital in the 70's, where Levitt was hired to consult management: "Union busters wield great power through a program of terror and manipulation – people don't, can't possibly know what's going on and who's telling the truth. Most of the people [at a work site] are just ordinary people. They have no experience … with violence, with being lied to, with manipulation, with being harassed in open, gross, insulting ways. The first time this happens to regular people, they're terrified.” And terror is the goal. The union buster hopes to control employees by employing terror.

But it isn't just about breaking an organizing drive at one single location. Muehlenkamp again: "If other hospital workers watched all the workers at Harper Grace try to organize and saw what happened to them, only to lose, they weren't going to attempt the same."

This is, of course, precisely the situation we find ourselves in today. We are the example that is being used to intimidate the other unions. The studios want the actors, the directors, the Teamsters, IATSE, all to look at our struggle and see us lose. See us fractured and divided. With the hope that they will be frightened by what they see, and accept whatever deal the studios offer.

The idea is also to make us appear demoralized, then divided. To the public, and to ourselves. Diminish the pickets (LA Times: the "relentless picketing" which was one element in bringing the AMPTP back to the table); split off core groups (oh no! Carlton Cuse has gone back to work! The Showrunners are all abandoning us!); fragment the internal leadership (the Captain's meeting Friday, although generally cordial, did show signs of strain as one writer, concerned for his laid-off production team asked "What do I tell them?" to be admonished by another member that "We are on strike!"); and create a sense that the studios can wait this out, and that we're not getting anywhere. That our strike is useless.

But it's not.

The most powerful tactic in strike-breaking is propagandistic. The union (and particularly the leadership) is portrayed as power-hungry, control-seeking, strike-happy, aloof. Leadership is described as detached from the membership and inaccessible to their demands (Patric responded to over 500 e-mails over the Thanksgiving break.) The strike is described as rudderless and futile, with declining numbers on the picket lines. The creation of a Strike Rules committee is described as fascistic. The companies are portrayed as avuncular and concerned: "We're just trying to get everyone back to work."

Levitt again: "The aim of the union buster is a war of saturation bombing in which half-truths, accusations and distortions of union positions put the union on the defensive.” Forcing the union leadership to defend itself during meetings means there's no time left for planning, or building internal unity. The workers won't have time to discuss their own issues if they're sufficiently bombarded with "twisted information" sown by the union buster. Which, in our own case, is the AMPTP.

The well-orchestrated anti-union campaign is nuanced and calibrated to human emotion. The union buster may offer a deal that creates an illusion that management recognizes its mistakes and has learned its lessons, and is trying to find a way to resolve the problem. Management really has changed, and management deserves a chance.

Okay? Confessions of a Union Buster. There is an AMPTP policy document that details how to deal with ‘negotiations.’ It essentially ends every paragraph with this simple idea: Divide and conquer. Divide and conquer. Conquer? Our ask doesn't even match inflation! Conquer what? Why? What's going on?

The New York Times today: "The nearly month-old strike by screenwriters has entered a new and perhaps uglier phase, revealing the conflict for what it has been all along: not so much a tiff over industry economics as a struggle for power over Hollywood's perceived digital future."

Oh, really? Well blow me down. It's about the Internet. Who woulda thunk? The supposed mis-step over the DVD proposal withdrawal (where the negotiating committee was assured by the AMPTP that the DVD formula was a big stumbling block, we withdrew it, they responded with nothing) is now recognized as a feint: there was no concern about DVD's. The corporations don't care. Your DVD collection is headed for the garage right now. At Ralph's, you can buy a DVD player for $29.95. That's cheaper than an 8-track player, bids on which top 100 bucks (for the really nice ones.)

So that's what the fight's over. Even the NYT, ever behind the curve on the news cycle, gets it. So now we are all clear what this is about.

And the corporations hope to smash our union around this issue. No Internet. No DVD's. No jurisdiction. No transparency. No nothing.

At the SEIU rally on Thursday, the marchers began and ended with a prayer. They bowed their heads and prayed for direction and guidance and thanked their God for the opportunity, the voice, the courage, the belief, to express themselves in their struggle.

They connect their struggle with their belief. They believe, and we must believe.

The SEIU leadership negotiates quite inflexibly with the employers because the employers see that the leadership is empowered by the belief of the members. This works in two ways. There is the obvious physical expression of the belief of the membership in being out in force, vocally, on the picket lines, and there is the emotional power of belief that underpins the leadership's work. The leadership can focus on the exhausting work of facing down the employers at the negotiating table because they are sustained by the knowledge that the membership is behind them. A leadership whose energy is divided by having to put out the fires of flagging faith cannot hold its own against the companies.

Again, this is the tactical approach of the AMPTP. Fragment the union, make the leadership have to focus on keeping us all happy, and the power of the WGA position will flag.

The SEIU workers take their struggle personally: each of them is fighting for a principle, a right. Every action is a fight not just for their specific demands, but also an affirmation of their right, their duty, to protect the sacred act of demanding a fair deal. They struggle not just for themselves, but for those who cannot, those who have gone before, those who have lost and won in this struggle, and for those who will struggle in the future. The struggle is permanent, and in this moment we are called to make a stand. Not just on the Internet or reality programming, but for our own beliefs. Our own beliefs. The issue is quite simple. While we may all have notions of tactics or strategy or which gate to picket or whether to have Christmas lunch on Peter Chernin's front lawn, it all boils down to this: What are we striking for? What do we believe? Is our purpose singular and clear?

The companies don't attack us on this question, because it's the one question only we can answer. It's also the one question that will decide whether we win or lose. Do we believe that this struggle, this sacrifice we are all making, is worthy? Are we of one heart? One mind? Do we look at each other on the picket lines and see brothers and sisters? Is our belief strong enough to carry us through to the end?

Only we can know. The companies hope the answer is no, and they will wage a psychological war to make us think the answer is no. The companies will try to convince us that we do not believe. And each of us, as individuals, must decide. Because if the answer is no, we have already lost.

Belief is victory.

In peace and solidarity,


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