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Monday, November 05, 2018

Strike Force

PICKET LINES DON’T VARY MUCH. Marchers carry signs and chant slogans, and there’s usually some speechifying and music. When the strike looks to be long-term, a lot of planning and financial backing is needed. And participants need to withstand the nastiness both of the bosses and of the ignorant who have soaked up and spout the anti-union rhetoric made more and more popular since onetime Screen Actors Guild president Ronald Reagan wandered into the White House.  

Patrick Meyer energizing the picket line.
Photo by B. A. Nilsson
An enthusiastic supporter of the Hollywood Blacklist, Reagan remained a tool of Hollywood forces who sought to do away with hard-won union jobs. But the cause of anti-unionism has its most ardent champion in the current White House occupant, who has redistributed Labor Department forces to exponentially increase the resources available to dismantle organized labor.

The Screen Actors Guild picket line that formed outside the Tribeca headquarters of ad agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty numbered about 400, most of them actors, but with support from several other unions. The Guild’s recent consolidation with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists six years ago created the more powerful bargaining unit SAG-AFTRA, which has seen much success in negotiating its way around the dizzying changes in entertainment technology, but will forever face the greedy forces of bosses crying poor-mouth.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
BBH is a company that has hired SAG-AFTRA talent for nearly twenty years before deciding that the actors were too expensive, so the union decided to assist the mendicant company by holding a sidewalk bake sale. “Because every penny helps, even when you have millions,” the union literature declared, and we members were invited to meet at 11:30 AM on a sunny Thursday morning to don union t-shirts, hoist union signs, and let the passers-by, at least, enjoy the spectacle – and share some nice-looking, tasty cookies and cupcakes.

Participants donned black SAG-AFTRA tee shirts and hoisted placards, shepherded into a bounded area intended to leave sidewalk space for others, which is one of the legal requirements when picketing on public land. But there was room enough to kick up some fuss. The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) local provided a platform and sound system, and American Federation of Musicians members the Stumblebums Brass Band provided a versatile accompaniment for the event.

SAG-AFTRA’s NY local president Rebecca Damon presented an array of speakers, after noting, “this is serious business. In a time when corporations are willing to devalue people’s work and their worth, SAG-AFTRA and our allies are here to take a stand. That’s why we’re here.” Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul reminded us, “This is not Donald Trump’s America. You’re not touching our hard-working men and women.”

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
Roberta Reardon was president of AFTRA before the merge and first co-president of the reconfigured union, but she spoke Thursday as NY State’s Department of Labor Commissioner, declaring, “New York is a proud union state!” Other speakers included NY State AFL-CIO president Mario Cilento, promising the backing of “25 million fellow AFL-CIO members”; State Senator Brad Hoylman, and NY City Central Labor Council president Vincent Alvarez.

But the real star of the show was Stumblebums drummer Patrick Meyer, holding forth at the traps even as he chanted and sang through the sound system, missing no opportunity to keep the marchers – and the crowd that gathered around us – energized. With Smidge Malone on trumpet and vocals and Disco Ronnie making it look easy to wield a tuba, the band eventually took to circling the marchers, soon leading a high-stepping conga line. It wasn’t your usual job action, but you don’t often get to see performers taking to the streets to seek the fair wages that once seemed a norm in this country.

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