Why We Fight

Written by Patric M. Verrone

Throughout the lead-up to this reality organizing campaign, a certain question has been raised a fair number of times. It is a question asked honestly by those who are looking for Guild coverage and also cynically by the companies who would like to deny it. It comes in various forms but it boils down to this: Why would we, writers who are already members of the Writers Guild, fight to organize reality writers and editors?

Ultimately, this is a question members must answer for themselves. Speaking as someone who is in a position of responsibility in this union as a result of an organizing campaign, I could write endlessly on why I'm in the fight. However, in the limited space afforded here, I will limit myself to the other 11,137 members.

HERE' S WHY WE FIGHT:

Because we know what came before. None of us stands on our own in this industry. We have all been boosted onto the shoulders of four generations of WGA members who demanded and achieved a WGA standard for writing in this business.

Because we know what we've got. As a result of past fights we have everything that we could never have gotten without a fight: minimum salaries, writer-determined credits, residuals in perpetuity, portable health insurance, a pension at 52, and countless other benefits.

Because we know what you're going through. We see what the five companies who control this industry have accomplished. They have developed a non-union business model with a work force that is underpaid, overworked, and made to feel fungible. The Dangerfieldian lack of respect with which you are treated drains power from all writers. Not only does it bring down individual rates and increase the availability of a library of residual-free programming, but it significantly undercuts our most powerful collective bargaining tool–the threat of a strike.

Because we know we're next. This industry is bound and determined to spread its nonunion business model further and deeper into network television as it has in cable through pandemic non-Guild covered production of animation, nonfiction, and comedy-variety programming, not to mention the independent and direct-to-video film markets.

As I write this, Fox is touting a $159 million opening for a non-Guild film (Revenge of the Sith) and next week promises healthy returns for the non-WGA Madagascar. The Internet and other forms of new media are similarly presenting ready access to a world of non-Guild-covered production.

My Italian-born grandfather used to call people without backbones who would give up without a fight "Mamelukes." In Raging Bull, a prideful Jake LaMotta, realizing he is about to be investigated for throwing a fight refers to himself disdainfully as "the Mameluke of the Year." In actuality, the Mamelukes were Egyptian sultans who, after reigning for almost 600 years, were brutally and effortlessly routed by Muhammad Ali (the pasha, not the boxer). Looking around the membership of this union, I do not see any Mamelukes.

Whether it be as a result of self-determination, self-interest or purely self-defense, WGA members will fight. Because we have. Because we can. Because we should. Because we must.

Organizing Reality TV