November 07, 2007

Strike Lessons

I was 15 years old and starting my 5th year in a private all boy's school when my father went on strike with the Amalgamated Transit Workers against Greyhound Bus Lines, his employers for the previous 20+ years. To this day, I don't know exactly what the issues were that led the bus drivers to walk off the job, but I vividly remember Dad's working conditions. For some time, he'd been on the so-called "extra board", which basically meant he was a driver on call to fill in whenever another driver was unable to complete his route at the given time. He would leave at all sorts of irregular hours, drive potentially hundreds of miles, and then be forced to sleep in a lounge with no bed for a few hours before driving all the way back and hoping he could get a full night's rest before the next call came in.

He'd been exhausted for, seemingly, years. He has back problems and repeat stress injuries in his forearm to this day, some 18 years after he last drove a big blue bus.

I can still see the orange placard with this black letters that he would wear around his chest as he and his fellow drivers walked the picket line. It was the first time I'd ever heard the term "scab". I was a gifted kid in a working class family going to one of the most expensive schools in the country on scholarships and loans floated directly on Mom and Dad. Losing one of the two incomes in the house was not a nice thing. But, Dad knew, if they didn't make a stand there, then the ownership would know they could just roll over the drivers and have even worse conditions.

Sadly, after nearly 18 months of walking the line, the union caved. Scab drivers were easy to find. They received no support from their fellow drivers at Trailways and the other unions, to my knowledge. And, if I remember correctly, Amalgamated Transit's headquarters was actually IN Greyhound's corporate offices. Dad never drove a bus again and found a new career in the local DMV, where he earned a reputation seemingly around the entire city as a model of fairness & decency within an otherwise heartless department.

Point being, collective action cannot survive in a vacuum.

I am not, as of yet, a member of the Writers Guild of America. I hope to be, one day. But I'm also a producer, and one of the reasons why some of my projects haven't shot yet is because it's important to me to make sure I can actually PAY my cast and crew. Filmmaking is a collaborative process, and, yes, producers take a measure of financial risk on projects and should be rewarded accordingly. But producers, as the ultimate owners of a title, have the capacity to resell the original creative work of artists in a million different ways. A finished film can literally keep making money for a producer for ever, as long as there is someone, somewhere, who'll broadcast or screen it for a paying audience. And if I'm reselling your story and your words and your ideas (as a writer), and your vision and presentation (as a director) or, even, in the case of an actor, images of YOUR FACE, it's only fair that you reap some of that benefit.

So tomorrow afternoon, I intend to put on my track shoes, head over to Paramount Pictures, pick up a sign, and walk the line for a few hours.

Because the reason that the studios don't want to give the writers an extra FOUR STINKING CENTS on the sale of a $10 DVD, and don't want to give them ANYTHING for the sale of a movie over the internet, which literally costs NOTHING, is the same reason Greyhound didn't want to buy a cot for Dad and all of the other drivers. It's less about who's rich and who isn't (and don't sleep - the studios are banks awash in cash - for every star that gets $20 million to star in a film, there's a producer somewhere who's cutting that 20 million dollar check), and more about what's just simply right.

Fairness. Decency.

See you at Paramount.