Lessons From 1988

This was submitted by WGA member Robert Eisele, who was present for both the strike in 1985 and the longer strike of 1988.

"Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it."
-- George Santayana, 1905

In 1988, writers endured a strike of nearly six months. In 2008, we are now approaching the halfway point of the length of that strike.

Although most Guild members in ’88 stood strong and united, the memory of our three week strike in ‘85 haunted us -- because in the '85 strike, largely because of a divisive group of anti-unionists in our midst called “the Union Blues,” we gave up, capitulating to what has become the hated VHS/DVD residual.

Those of us who walked the picket line in ’88 don’t remember disunity or weakness. We held our ranks. We didn’t win that strike, but we didn’t lose it either. We upped the foreign residual and stopped rollbacks during an era of union-busting and Reaganomics.

The Contract Adjustment Committee (C.A.C.) was a result of that strike. 88’s lengthy work stoppage traumatized the industry, and both sides wanted to find a better way. The Contract Adjustment Committee was convened with the intention of regular meetings and negotiations between management and the Guild, so strikes could be avoided.

Unfortunately, the C.A.C. was used by the studios to lull us into a torpor that slowly whittled away at our resolve and our MBA. The AMPTP, enticing us with the canard of “partnership,” found a way to screw us without giving us a kiss. That era ended only recently. And a new unity and strength was forged.

I think it’s a mistake to look back at the ’88 strike as a loss, however, or a capitulation. Good and courageous writers sacrificed a great deal in that strike. The demon in our history is the ’85 strike, where writers who may have meant well took actions that weakened all of us -- and harmed writers for decades to come. And the Contract Adjustment Committee that resulted from the ’88 strike, a child of hope and weariness, unfortunately didn’t work, and even diminished our stature.

So what lessons can we learn from this history to guide us in ’08? The obvious lesson is to stand strong and united. But the most important lesson can only be learned in the answer to this question: What do we want the legacy of this strike to be?

Our negotiating committee is working behind the veil of a media black-out for our greater interests. We are walking picket lines in the rain. The trade papers haunt us with apocryphal reports of a fi-core retreat. There is hope and anxiety because the future is still uncertain. This is the moment when we need to remember the words of our old pal, Shakespeare: “Adversity is ugly but wears a precious stone.”

What could make this adversity worth it? How about a contract that brings economic justice to our membership? Or a legacy of strength, not to intimidate our employers, but to insure and institutionalize a mutual respect?

We don’t need management to love our leadership, just to negotiate with us in good faith. Then, perhaps together, we can find a better way to deal with one another, perhaps even a real partnership, so that in three years we aren’t faced with economic war.

That would be a "precious stone" worth having.

Norman Mailer once said: “...it was more important to be a man than a very good writer, and that probably I could not become a very good writer unless I learned first how to keep my nerve."

We all have to keep our nerve, if we want the legacy of this strike to be something we can all look back on and say: "it was worth it."


stuiec said...

Here is an excellent piece of advice from the exec director of SAG, quoted in a Variety article on the upcoming SAG-AMPTP negotiations:

[SAG Prexy] Rosenberg also declares he's not in the least flummoxed at the prospect of sitting down with moguls -- citing the performance of SAG national exec director Doug Allen, who's been in the top post for a year after two decades as a leading exec at the NFL Players Assn. Allen is asked repeatedly if SAG is going on strike.

"Having the capacity and will to strike when companies are intransigent is something a union has to have; otherwise, you're engaged in collective begging," Allen responds. "Given what's going on, we'd be shortsighted not to be prepared."

The best way to avoid another strike in future is, as you say, to demonstrate strength and a willingness to use that strength to insist on fairness for the Guild.

PJ McIlvaine said...


scribeguy said...


I've engaged in many lengthy conversations with younger writers-about the '85 and the '88 strikes, which have tended to meld in the collective memory over time into one, long, disasterous one. Thanks for putting things straight and drawing the appropriate lessons.

Ruthie said...

"What could make this adversity worth it? How about a contract that brings economic justice to our membership?"

How about a contract that allows my animation earnings to count towards the minimum-salary requirement for the WGA health plan?

"Our negotiating committee is working behind the veil of a media black-out for our greater interests."

Like taking DVD residuals and animation jurisdiction off the table? Those were done behind the veil of a media blackout. In fact, they're the only things to have come out of either of the two blackouts to date.

We need to stay strong, yes, but our leaders need to stay strong too. STOP GIVING AWAY THE THINGS WE'RE STRIKING FOR!

Remember the rally at the Convention Center? Did anyone come away with the sense that any issue was more important than DVDs? Not to minimize its obvious importance, but does anyone recall new media being discussed at all? It certainly wasn't given any more weight than animation and reality.

New media is important, but so are DVD residuals and animation jurisdiction. PUT THEM BACK ON THE TABLE. It's a lot easier to "stay strong" when there are still things to fight for.

Al said...

Beautiful, thank you.

goosu said...

nhl lockout 04-05 nba lockout 98-99 nfl lockout of 82 mlb lockout 94-95

Kate Purdy said...

All over, I'm hearing the same thing. "It's pretty much over, right?" "I mean, they've got to wrap it up, yeah?" I see low energy, people (myself included) not hitting the picket lines as much, I hear doubt and vague, childlike hope. Can I just say, can I please SHOUT, that negotiations have not even officially begun? AT ALL? There has been bullying and posturing, there has been picketing and rallying, but there has never been a real negotiation. I'm trusting, like everyone else, that that's what's going on right now, but this passive-agressive pouting at the Negotiators has got to stop. I think we need to remember the lesson, not just of '88 or'85, but of '00. 'Cause you know where we are right now? Florida. And we really have to count all the votes.

It doesn't matter what we've proved, what we've stopped, pressured, won, fought -- none of it matters if our negotiators aren't given the time and support to get us deal that ensures the future of this profession. That deal hasn't been offered. The DGA deal will not cut it for us. It may be a start, but it could be the start of a marathon. We have to be ready for that. Yes, we can tone down the rhetoric. Yes, we can hope for a swift and fair resolution. But if the AMPTP sees anything but resolve and unity among us, their motivation to offer something fair will fade away. They're still watching us. They've made sure no one else is, but they are. We cannot blink.

You don't take a deal 'cause it's the right time. You take a deal 'cause it's the right deal.

In solidarity and see you back on the line, Joss Whedon.

kimmy2007 said...

why is everyone speculating and saying this that and the other thing about what is going on? That is why there is a blackout! I am sure we don't want to know what is going on behind the doors. If we did then we would all be there . Lets let the pros deal with this and sit back and hope for the best, not a repeat of 88 or 85. All I want is for this strike to end so I can enjoy the Oscars and the new season of LOST. If both sides had any respect for the Oscars they would give the okay for the stars to go and not picket, that would be a real step in the right direction.

hoopcooper said...

To Ruthie...

I'm sitting in an office at an unnamed animation giant, and of course I feel the same way about my non-union animation earnings. But the guild couldn't really ever organize our shows with a wave of their hand, despite the fact it was on the table. Call them. They'll park a van out in front of your non-IA shop. You can get your friends to sign cards. Walk out. That's the drill.

In the meantime, the stronger we are, the better the deal we're going to get.