I have never belonged to a labor union. Outside of my friends who are members, my only direct interactions with labor unions were when I registered a screenplay with the WGA before submitting it to an agent and a UAW label on my car. But I benefit from labor unions. And so do you.
Unions are why we have weekends, sick leave, worker’s compensation, forty-hour work weeks, and overtime. They’re why we have minimum wage and safety regulations. Thanks to labor unions, I didn’t have to work in a sweatshop when I was eight. Labor unions worked side-by-side with the civil rights movement. Many of the freedoms and prosperity we enjoy today are the result of labor unions.
This is why I support unions, and I stand with the WGA and SAG-AFTRA in their strike against the AMPTP. The issues they’re striking about go beyond entertainment and can determine the future of all industries.
When politicians and billionaires talk about bringing America back to the “good ol’ days,” it seems like they’re talking about the Gilded Age of the late 19th century. These were the days of robber barons, monopolies, widespread government corruption, and non-existent regulation. Workers (including children) toiled for long hours in dangerous conditions for paltry wages. Consumers dealt with unsafe products and patent medicines with false claims while living in polluted cities with poor sanitation, widespread poverty, and crime. Meanwhile, the plutocrats who lived off exploited workers and consumers indulged themselves in their lavish mansions. When they got bored with their feasts and mistresses, they would go explore Africa and Asia because rockets and deep-sea submersibles hadn’t been invented yet.
Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Mark Zuckerberg are the modern-day JP Morgan, John D. Rockefeller, and Andrew Carnegie. And just as the internal combustion engine and the assembly line redefined American industry then, AI is doing it now. We’re also seeing rollbacks of 120 years of progress. States are passing laws permitting child labor in factories and meat processing plants. Jim Crow is being reintroduced in several Southern states. Women’s rights are under attack—not just abortion and contraception, but alimony, no-fault divorce, ownership of bank accounts and credit cards, and anything that enables women to be anything else but broodmares for a theocracy.
Just as labor unions were the first to push back against predatory capitalism, they are our last line of defense against the modern oligarchs’ lust for exploitation and totalitarianism.
If we want to talk about the “good ol’ days,” remember that America was strong when our labor unions were strong. By holding corporations accountable, unions enabled working Americans to achieve a standard of living where they can afford houses, cars, education, recreation, and investment. Unions built the middle class and gave more Americans a chance to move up in society. When communities were excluded from these opportunities, unions helped to address those barriers. Though imperfect, these were times of optimism, innovation, and progress. It’s one of the messages in It’s a Wonderful Life: When workers get a fair shake and businesses are kept accountable, everyone prospers.
It may seem like I’m reading too much into a labor dispute, but I don’t think so. Entertainment is one of America’s biggest exports and influences global culture. Even nations that hate us still refer to American movies, TV shows, and movies. What happens in Hollywood will shape labor relations and the future of industrialization for decades to come. The world is watching us.
So, let’s stand behind the unions in the entertainment business, at UPS, at Waffle House, and wherever people demand a decent living from the work they do. The progress made by labor unions benefits all workers and society as a whole. As the song says, “Solidarity forever, for the union makes us strong.”