Friday, February 20, 2009

Ego and Timing

The WGA strike is now in its eighty-eighth day, and 'informal' talks with the producers are under way. There is, thankfully, a news blackout (during the last, failed, round of talks a news blackout was declared, only to be breached within a few days) and so I have virtually no information about the progress of these preliminary discussions. However, one aspect of them begins to trouble me: the length of time they are taking.

The DGA preliminaries took about a weekend to complete, before formal talks yielded an agreement within six days. Our preliminary talks have now lasted as long as both DGA discussions together. This leads me to wonder what can be taking so long about these talks-about-talks which are meant to be a prelude to actual negotiations.

Two things occur to me: the residual rancor engendered by the original failed negotiations and their aftermath (for much of which the WGA's leadership must be held responsible) may be making the informal process more difficult than would otherwise be necessary. Second, the speed with which the DGA reached its deal has, inevitably, raised questions about the judgment and competence of the WGA leadership.

Given this, I am concerned that some in the leadership may be disinclined to speed the process for fear that their behavior, judgments and tactics may be called into question. In other words, they may be trying to slow the talks in order to save face. Such ego-driven tactics, while understandable, would nonetheless be reprehensible, and I earnestly hope that such is not the case. But having witnessed the unwise, inconsistent and, on one occasion at least, craven and self-serving conduct of the leaders (I refer to their failure to defend the member who dared to question the Guild's tactics at the second general meeting), I am not entirely confident that ego is not, in fact, playing a part in these informal talks.

The leader of the Screen Actors Guild has now denounced the DGA deal as an invalid template for our agreement, and at least one member of the WGA board has followed suit (the day after he told me personally that things were going well and that the DGA deal was a valid template). My growing fear is that such untimely pronouncements may prove to be a harbinger of a formal rejection of that template by the leadership, which will then argue for a continuation of the strike to coincide with a strike this summer by SAG. I can almost see the text of a WGA announcement to this effect, declaring that following the DGA deal would amount to another 'sellout' (the word with which the leadership has callously characterized the past thirty years of WGA contracts), and that coupling our strike with that of the actors would put us in the greatest possible position of strength.

If this does happen, I am quite sure there will be significant splits within the Guild, and calls among many for the removal of the president, the executive director and the chief negotiators. On the other hand, I am not at all sure that I will not be among those leading those calls. The time to end this strike is now; failure to do so would brand the leaders with the label 'irresponsible' which many of us have to this point resisted applying to them.