Hollywood Writer: Here's Why This Strike Matters

It's tech companies versus organized labor in the 'fight of our generation'
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 24, 2023 7:05 PM CDT
Hollywood Writer: Here's Why This Strike Matters
Striking hotel workers from Unite Here Local 11 join the picketing actors of SAG-AFTRA, and writers of the WGA, outside Netflix studios on Friday, July 21, 2023, in Los Angeles.   (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

Hollywood writers are on strike because of the difference between broadcast TV and streaming—and because of the wider clash between workers and tech companies, striking writer Rafael Agustin explains at Mother Jones. Agustin writes that while people might feel a dispute between supposedly "rich" Hollywood writers on one side and networks and streaming services on the other means nothing to them, "it's quite the opposite. This is the labor fight of our generation." Agustin writes that tech companies destroy the power of labor in industries they enter—"the convenience of Spotify, Uber, and Airbnb has come on the backs of workers in the music industry, the taxi industry, and the hotel industry"—but in Hollywood, they have encountered a strong union willing to put up a fight.

One of the strikers' most important demands, he writes, is a ban on using AI to generate scripts. "In a future where AI is more cost-effective than hiring a writer, a room of 10 writers could soon become a room of one writer and a box with AI software," which is "simply plagiarism on steroids," he writes. He says the "fight against AI replacing human creativity, against tech turning yet another industry into a gig economy" has the support of sister unions, including the one representing laborers and tradespeople involved in TV and film production, and writers and actors are determined to stay out as long as it takes.

Beyond the AI issue, writers are fighting how streaming services are trying to throw out the rules and erase gains writers won decades ago, Agustin writes. He says writers' rooms have shrunk and the residual income that writers survive on between shows has been devastated. "Writers who worked on procedurals for broadcast used to make somewhere around $20,000 per residual check," he writes. "Now they are writing the same type of show for streamers making in the ballpark of $150 per residual check." Part of the problem, he says, is that while networks order up new shows when a series is a hit, the business model for streaming relies on signing up subscribers, and they will cancel a popular show "the second they think they've squeezed all the potential new subscribers from it."

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Agustin says he's heard people shout insults while he's been on the picket line, but they've been hugely outnumbered by honks of support. "The honks don't usually come from the expensive Teslas that drive by," he writes. "They come from the bus drivers, the electrical trucks, the waste workers, the big rigs—from the other union workers in the City of Angels." Click for the full piece. (More Hollywood writers' strike stories.)

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