Resistance Is Futile -- the Talking Point of Doom

(Or: "don't bother, you're going to lose anyway no matter what, you might as well just give up now. Really. We only want what's best for you.")

A clever - and totally misleading - little Talking Point Of Doom has been wafting through the blogosphere the past few days.

It goes like this: "No matter what the writers win by striking it will never make up for what they lose during the strike".

I love this little Talking Point in so many ways. For one thing, it's very nearly a perfect Zen koan. In just one sentence it effortlessly combines at least three twists of fractured logic that rush toward a moment of enlightenment, revealing to any Guild striker the existential meaninglessness of struggle.

And yet, it's the perfect distillation of Western, Calvinist theology too - failure is predetermined, and you're all going to Hell (including poor Nick Counter who obviously isn't one of the Elect, since he doesn’t have a private jet).

Okay, what's led me so far afield into comparative religion? Simply this: this elegantly misleading Talking Point is based on divination, not economics.

First it assumes clairvoyant knowledge that the strike will inevitably be a long one. But the WGA strike of 1985 only lasted two weeks. To go further afield, the recent UAW strike against GM was resolved in 48 hours; the UAW strike against Chrysler shortly after lasted 6 hours. The supermarket workers this year authorized a strike, just as we did, came right to the brink, then didn't have to. No one knows how long a WGA strike will last.

But the whole purpose of the Talking Point isn't to make a realistic projection of possible economic outcomes; it's to propagandize that Resistance Is Futile, Writers And Their Residuals Will Be Assimilated.

Implicit in this first feat of clairvoyance is a second one: it assumes that whatever work is suspended during a strike will never be reordered. But we know this isn't true. Stockpiling efforts in anticipation of the strike have already generated additional writers' income that any sensible economist - or strike strategist - would feed into the balance sheet. Catch-up efforts after a strike will add more employment.

Having already exaggerated the total costs of a strike, our little but action-packed Talking Point then makes a stunning prediction about what benefits the strike will win: not enough! "Not enough?" What sort of number is that? An imaginary number. Once again it's a baseless assertion about the future - and in this case, if you believe the first part of the Talking Point, a distant future at that, when the strike finally ends.

In fact, at the moment there's a swing of perhaps more than $100 million a year in current - not even future - residuals on the table in the negotiations. To me, that sounds like a fair amount of money. Maybe enough to offset the net costs of at least a few minutes of striking. But don't try telling that to The Talking Point of Doom.

And for all its forays into clairvoyance, there's an even bigger problem with this Talking Point: it resolutely ignores any real long term assessment of gain and loss.

If the Guild does not conduct a successful strike now, in years to come emboldened companies will force rollbacks on a demoralized Guild - and the net cost of not striking could be gigantic. Collectively, Guild members presently earn $260 million a year in residuals, all of which could be lost in the near future as downloads and streaming media replace DVDs and second-run broadcasts. That money, split among 12,000 members, is what feeds our families and sustains our health coverage when we as freelance workers are in between jobs (which, for the average writer, is a fact of life.)

But the loss of those residuals has already started happening to the writers on Lost and Heroes, where the second network telecast has been replaced by internet streaming – for which the companies offer nothing.

If the Guild doesn't strike over this, any rational company next time around will insist the Guild give up its health and pension plans, and then its minimums.

Which brings me to the final reason I love the Talking Point of Doom so much. In just one sentence it's the perfect embodiment of the Generally Accepted Principles of Studio Accounting: There are only losses! Huge and endless losses! Your contract gave you a share of profits? Here it is - zero! (SEC Disclosure: nothing herein is a representation of or is meant to be a representation of the actual performance, future outlook, or historical earnings of the Company.)

The truth is, nobody in the WGA or AMPTP knows yet how long the strike will last or what it will win. But everyone knows that if you never stand up and fight, you’ll ultimately lose everything. That's one prediction you can bank on.

Carleton Eastlake

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