Over 110 days into the writers’ strike and 40 days into the actors’ strike, neither seem likely to end soon. Considering historical precedents, and the underhanded tactic the studios pulled Tuesday evening, the recently reopened negotiations between the WGA and the AMPTP will likely break down once again.

Lessons from the 2007-‘08 Writers’ Strike

Writers picketing in 2007 writers' strike

Historically, the 2007-‘08 writers’ strike reminds us that both sides of the bargaining table will carry on fighting vehemently, even with a massive strike going.

That strike began after contract negotiations broke down between the screenwriters’ union — the Writers Guild of America (WGA) — and the trade association that represents the bosses of the TV and film industry in labor negotiations — the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). The AMPTP knew then that if they refused to make a deal, the union would go on strike.

Then, in December 2007, negotiations started up during the strike — and the AMPTP again didn’t do everything within its power to prevent the negotiations from breaking down once again, continuing the strike indefinitely. It was only on the next restart, in early 2008, that the negotiations resulted in a deal, and the strike came to an end.

2023 Hollywood strike sign: "Fair contract or we'll spoil succession!"

The current writers’ and actors’ strikes may seem like a groundbreaking event that everyone involved, especially the studios, must be desperate to end. But every person sitting at the bargaining table is calculating ways to push for the most that their side can get — including by standing up and walking away.

And in the case of writers and actors, forced to go on strike every decade or two just to put food on the table, that’s probably a good thing.

Strikebreaking 101

Jack London definition of a Scab / Strikebreaker

Aside from recent history, a more definitive piece of evidence that the strike will be continuing for a while is that Tuesday night, the AMPTP (probably unintentionally) revealed the stalled state of the current round of negotiations with the WGA.

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Since the writers’ strike began on May 2, the AMPTP has been refusing a sit-down. But with the studios bleeding money and the majority of public support backing the strikes, that changed on August 11, when, for the first time since the writers’ strike began 101 days earlier, the WGA leadership and the AMPTP sat down at the bargaining table for a new round of negotiations.

Screw the Rules, I Have Money!

And then, like I laid out above, the AMPTP ignored their own desperation to end the strike and pushed — though not by walking away, but by trying to turn the striking writers against each other.

During the negotiations prior to the beginning of the writers’ strike, the WGA and AMPTP agreed to a media blackout — no disclosing details of the negotiations to anyone — at the AMPTP’s behest; so, too, in SAG-AFTRA’s negotiations before the actors’ strike. Prior to reopening negotiations with the WGA on August 11, the AMPTP once again demanded a media blackout, and the WGA acquiesced.

Yet, the studios themselves have repeatedly broken this rule. The most recent instance, Tuesday evening, was major: the AMPTP published the details of the offer they made to the WGA leadership at the bargaining table. Even the New York Times called this action “an unusual step and [likely] an attempt to go around union leadership and appeal to rank-and-file members.”

Chess moves

And not just the WGA (and, indirectly, SAG-AFTRA) membership, either.

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The studios also need to propagandize the public, which, as mentioned above, mostly supports the workers: 67% of voters support the strikes; and of those, 86% (that’s 58% overall) say that even if there are delays in movies and TV shows, they’ll continue to support the strikes. Even President Biden has publicly stated that he supports the strikes. (Though his administration refuses to take a note from Benjamin Sisko’s example and use its power to do so, even as the FTC admits that the WGA is right about there being alarming, potentially illegal, monopolization in the entertainment industry. And so, the Democratic establishment’s vague lip service to progressive causes rings yet more hollow — again.)

It’s likely that the studios agreed to reopen negotiations at least partly because public opinion has been so firmly on the side of the strikes.

Hollywood Studios Have Gotten Rich-People Desperate

One form of wage theft accounts for more theft than all forms of property theft - graph from Economic Policy Institute

The offer that the AMPTP leaked Tuesday evening was from August 11, when these negotiations began; the two sides had had six negotiation meetings before the leak.

Meaning: by Tuesday evening, the WGA leadership had already spent dozens of hours discussing the studios’ offer. And something in those discussions led the AMPTP to openly and undeniably break the media blackout they themselves insisted upon. Something led them to the calculation that this obviously slimy, underhanded tactic of breaking their own rules and attempting to undermine the WGA leadership — with all the damage it would do to their public reputation and to the willingness of any union to negotiate with such obviously bad-faith actors — something led them to think that this way of pushing for the most that their side can get, was worth the risk.

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The only evident explanation, and the most likely one, is that the negotiations have stalled; and they’re trying to get the union’s rank-and-file to pressure the leadership to take the deal. The studios are desperate; and instead of just offering the writers a better deal, they went with psyops and sabotage — targeting actually desperate people.

Solidarity is Power

One Big Union political graphic from 1917

“[August 22] wasn’t a meeting to make a deal. This was a meeting to get us to cave, which is why, not twenty minutes after we left the meeting, the AMPTP released its summary of their proposals. This was the companies’ plan from the beginning — not to bargain, but to jam us. It is their only strategy — to bet that we will turn on each other.”

WGA Negotiations Update to Members, 8/22/23

The WGA leadership, as its rank-and-file has demanded, “won’t settle for [the] scraps” that is the studios’ offer. As far as those rank-and-file writers go (along with the actors marching arm-in-arm with them), it’s rather unlikely that the studios’ underhanded tactic will pay off. As one striking writer made clear, “The strike has radicalized all Hollywood writers. We’ll only agree to real change.” And SAG-AFTRA is right there with them.

That solidarity, within unions, between unions, and among all workers, is the most powerful weapon labor has. And I expect that future generations of workers will look back on this summer of discontent as yet another piece of history that proves: it’s an effective one.

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