Let the strikes begin. . .
Are we entering a new era of labor activism?
The last time there was a big Hollywood strike, I was a cub reporter at the Los Angeles Times. That meant I got the thankless task of staking out the headquarters of the Writer’s Guild of America West on a Saturday, approaching anyone walking in to see if they would comment. They usually wouldn’t, and the task was made more complicated by the fact the WGA building was across from LA’s Original Farmer’s Market, which made it hard to tell if the cool kids walking up and down Fairfax were writers about to strike or actors going to meet their friends for brunch.
This time around, it’s the behind-the-scenes Hollywood workers who are poised to picket, after 60,000 members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) voted almost unanimously last weekend to authorize its president to call for a strike. They’re still in negotiations, but the sheer number of the potential workers striking—this would be one of the biggest strikes in Hollywood history—illuminates something about the labor market right now. All sorts of Americans, whether it be the hourly low-wage workers I wrote about in my July cover story, or higher-paid violinists and nurses, are fed up with 19 months of a pandemic, and ready to push back against their employers.
The IATSE strike has to do with a lot of long-running issues in Hollywood, including what studios are willing to pay people who work on shows that are streamed online rather than broadcast on TV (what is this, 2007?), but one of the biggest sticking points has been the conditions on set. If you don’t follow the @IA_Stories Instagram, I’d recommend it for a window into the long hours and miserable conditions for many Hollywood workers on your favorite shows.
Many other workers in other industries have similar complaints. For my latest story, about how the pace of strikes in the U.S. may be accelerating, I talked to a nurse named Jess Deyo who has been on strike for seven months in Worcester, Mass. She says she didn’t have the support or staffing she needed during the pandemic and that patients weren’t getting the care they deserved. I also heard stories from violinists and cereal workers and bus drivers who all say they made big sacrifices during the pandemic, and can’t do it anymore. In the first five days of October alone, there were 10 strikes.
Jess Deyo and her daughters on the picket line in Worcester
It’s not a sign the pandemic is waning, necessarily, but it does indicate that workers feel much more confident that things will get better. If they’re willing to walk out, they have some faith that we won’t return to the economy of a year ago, where no one knew when things would get better.
Here’s the story: U.S. Workers Are Realizing It's the Perfect Time to Go on Strike
Also check out this really cool Labor Action Tracker from Cornell, where you can follow all the latest strikes and see if there are any near you:
I’m on the radio!
If you haven’t listened to Planet Money or The Indicator lately, I’d highly recommend giving it a listen. Not just because it’s entertaining content about the economy, which it is, but also because the host Stacey Vanek Smith has a new book out about women in the economy, and she did an episode on my experiment trying to buy only women-owned brands.
Here’s the episode, and go buy Stacey’s book, while you’re at it!