If you follow any TV writers on Twitter, likelihood is your timeline has been awash in a sea of blue WGA shirts, clips of figures lining the pavement outside of iconic film lots. Clips of these picket lines alongside snapshots of quippy signs have surfaced online, dominated Hollywood headlines which were previously dedicated to generating buzz for upcoming releases. The message is clear: "LA is a union town!"
The subject of these videos are the Writers Guild of America (WGA) strikes were called on May 2nd after negotiations between the guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) broke down. The WGA helpfully published their notes from the meeting, effectively summarising their reasons for striking (and exercising a degree of transparency that studios refuse to employ in the streaming age.)
16 years before this strike was called, the WGA had called for a union-wide walkout in light of the studio’s unwillingness to offer compensation for writing on “new media” (a grant oversimplification of the events that made up this historical moment.) By definition, “new media” was applicable to any piece of writing on the internet, including anything written for streaming—which was then in its infancy. Their eventual successful negotiations unwittingly secured a viable future for generations of writers.
Now there are a new set of issues facing emerging writers, with art tipping into the next era of evolution. Streaming has only become more prevalent, and the people who run these distribution companies have grown sickeningly rich, while a career in writing grows more precarious and ill-defined. Part of the reason for this is the streamers decision to not publish viewership numbers. Once this was promised as creative freedom but now it isolates creators, leaving them without any negotiating leverage to achieve job security. As Danny Strong described to Variety: “It’s unfair, and to be honest with you, it doesn’t even feel like it should be legal.” Ultimately these studios want to treat these artists like they are disposable because that is how they can justify paying them less and paying themselves more.
Adjusted for inflation writers are making 23% less in wages then they were 10 years ago. It is a startling statistic that casts the actions of Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney Plus in a harsh light. Furthermore, when the WGA tried to ascertain a definite rejection of future AI-generated scripts, the AMPTP refused such clarification, instead promising some annual meetings “to discuss advancements in technology.” Such unwillingness to express support for writers over the output of literal robots is, frankly, dystopian. Also, if you want to watch something that feels like it was written by ChatGPT, Netflix already has a whole treasure trove of identically constructed Christmas rom-coms for you to enjoy.
Part of the construct of capitalism is that life takes a backseat to work. As food and housing becomes increasingly expensive, executives will find new, cruel ways to make you work, promising nothing but survival. Writing, and art in general, offers a way for us to reverse these priorities, illuminating the desire for life, the appeal of living; TV offers writers the biggest stage to proclaim these messages. We should endeavour to support the WGA strikes, and unionize with other people in our respective field. It is in our best interest as TV watchers that these writers are fairly compensated for their work, and it is in our best interest as people that others are allowed to live full, meaningful lives that breaks the crushing grip of profit-making.