After a five-month long strike, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) has won a tentative agreement (TA) that will be put to a membership vote in October.
The details that have been published about the TA point to a resounding victory by the writers. Language was won that forces the studios to release streaming figures to the WGA, and establishes a system of streaming performance bonuses alongside basic wage increases. Minimum staffing standards for writers’ rooms have been set, and the union even won some new rules around AI-generated content.
There are limitations to the victories of the contract. The union will only be able to release streaming figures “in aggregate” to membership, which will make it difficult to tell if writers are being shortchanged on the success of their work. Studios will have to disclose if any material given to writers to develop is AI-generated and AI can’t be credited as a writer, but there aren’t yet safeguards on what studios can use AI for outside of scripts.
What is exceptional about the TA, however, is that the writers won foundational language on all of their major contract demands – language that can be improved upon in the next contract, if WGA continues to build militancy and fights to win.
How Did The Writers Win?
As millions of workers in the United States are thinking about organizing their workplaces, fighting for that essential first contract, or working to rebuild democratic worker militancy in their existing union, much can be learned from the example of the writers’ strike.
WGA mobilized strong picket lines from the beginning, chose picketing targets wisely, and, before the actors joined them on strike, attempted to interrupt Hollywood as best as possible. In the early days of the strike, picketers would use bullhorns and loud music to disrupt film sets from their place on the sidewalk outside, making filming impossible. This is a crucial lesson for anyone trying to build an effective strike – workers must be laser-focused on shutting production down.
The writers also understood the role of public support. Frequent impassioned video updates from popular faces like Adam Conover, who was on the negotiating committee, kept the strike front of mind in public consciousness. These updates were well-focused on exactly what the writers were attempting to win, and their commitment to maintaining the strike until they got the best deal.
However, long strikes are a struggle for union members – the massive industries and corporate bosses have large reserves of cash and can often afford to endure for months to prevent a good deal for workers. As the writers’ strike lengthened, there was a real risk that the strike fund could be depleted and the pickets could suffer. “One day longer, one day stronger” is a catchy slogan to inspire perseverance on the picket line, but in practice, a short but devastatingly effective strike is usually the best situation for workers. This is why it was crucial that the Screen Actors Guild (SAG-AFTRA) joined WGA on strike, thoroughly stymying Hollywood production. Though the writers will not legally be allowed to remain on strike to support the SAG-AFTRA contract fight after WGA has ratified its own TA, it is absolutely correct that WGA has encouraged its membership to continue attending SAG-AFTRA picket lines.
The Tasks Ahead
The writer’s TA is a landmark victory – it was so favorable to writers that the studios have now formed their own lobbying group, the “Streaming Innovation Alliance”, presumably to claw back some of the gains workers made through legislation. But one of the agreement’s core merits is as a foundation for further struggle. What is set out in this contract doesn’t yet guarantee a good standard of living for writers, as the profession attempts to claw its way back from dangerous precarity. But winning streaming bonuses for the first time means WGA can fight for bigger streaming bonuses next time, and setting limits on AI for the first time means that writers will be better equipped to truly regulate it next time. Furthermore, the five-month-long strike has educated a new generation of writers and a section of the general public on what it means to strike effectively, and the merits of holding out for the best possible deal despite the personal cost.
What is set out in this contract must be capitalized upon with renewed militancy when the WGA contract is once again up for negotiation, or risk falling backward again. This, too, is a universal lesson for building a new labor movement – there is no basis for stability between workers and bosses. Either they’re winning, or we are.
Solidarity to the WGA as workers vote on whether to accept the deal, and to SAG-AFTRA to win another foundational contract!