Sag-Aftra union members on the picket line in New York (Picture: Sag-Aftra/Twitter) Hollywood

Some of the biggest acting stars in the world are swapping red carpets for picket lines in the US, as they join other performers and writers fighting for contracts. 

In New York workers took their picket lines to the offices of major streaming platforms, including HBO, Amazon and Paramount on Friday. They marched through the city chanting, “What do we want—contracts. When do we want them— now.”

There was a big turnout from strikers in Los Angeles. President of the Screen Actors Guild (Sag-Aftra), Fran Drescher, said strikers were “set” to keep up their action for six months “if we have to.” 

In an earlier speech, Drescher blasted Hollywood executives. “What happens here is important,” she said. “What’s happening to us is happening across all fields of labour when employers make Wall Street and greed their priority. And when they forget about the essential contributors that make the machine run. 

“We are the victims here. We are being victimised by a very greedy entity. I cannot believe how they plead poverty, that they’re losing money left and right when giving hundreds of millions of dollars to their CEOs. It is disgusting. Shame on them. They stand on the wrong side of history.”

Earlier this month 65,000 Sag-Aftra members voted 97.91 percent in favour of strikes if negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) broke down. 

After the trade association refused to accept the union’s demands, it called members in the US out this week. This means that, for the first time since 1960, writers and actors in the US are striking together. Members of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) have been striking since May. 

Striking together could mean that production in Hollywood will be forced to grind to a halt. The actors; strike has already forced film sets to shut down, including Marvel’s Deadpool 3, a Gladiator sequel and another Mission: Impossible film. 

Streaming services are limiting the amount of residuals—the payments that performers receive for repeat showings of films or TV shows,

Workers in both unions are resisting bosses using artificial intelligence (AI) to undercut wages and terms and conditionsWhile some of the members of Sag-Aftra are highly paid stars, the union’s made clear that the changes affect performers at every level. 

Sag-Aftra’s chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland said entertainment executives had proposed “background performers should be able to be scanned, get paid for one day’s pay, and their company should own that scan.” 

Christopher Cosmo, a background actor from New York, said that the prospect of AI being used to generate background performers could end his career. “I am sure that the feeling is unanimous among background actors that being scanned and having our likeness used in perpetuity for a one-time payment of approximately $200 dollars is horrifying,” he said. 

The Equity union, which represents actors and entertainers in Britain, released a statement saying that it would “support Sag-Aftra and its members by all lawful means.” 

But the union added that performers in both Sag-Aftra and Equity should scab if they are working on British shores. In a press release, it told its members, “You should not encourage people to stop work on productions which are operating in Britain. 

“Though the strike is lawful in the US, it is not lawful under British legislation, and so you are likely to be acting unlawfully in encouraging someone to join the strike in Britain.” 

Instead of bowing to anti-trade union laws, union leaders in Equity should show real solidarity with those in the Sag-Aftra union and push for strikes in Britain. The strikes in Hollywood send an important message to the rest of the labour movement in the US —that anyone can strike against profit-hungry bosses. 


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