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Union Roundup – February 2004

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By Mark London Williams
Suddenly, Hollywood labor guilds are falling all over themselves to break bread with U.S. Senators. Some of it even makes sense.
For example, the AFL-CIO, Teamsters and IATSE are all officially on record as endorsing Democratic nominee-apparent John Kerry in his bid for the White House. IATSE Prez Tom Short, whose union had formerly endorsed Richard Gephardt, said a Kerry victory would assure “the protection and maintenance of jobs, fair trade and health care” for working families across the land.
Which is giving Kerry a wee bit of the benefit of a doubt, since he has been a fairly avid free-trader in the past, given his votes on NAFTA and other issues. Teamster head James P. Hoffa said —giving humanity itself the benefit of a doubt —that “everybody evolves,” and thought Kerry was in the midst of doing that on the free trade issue, realizing, as Hoffa said in an AP interview, that “the entire issue is going to come down to jobs.”
Kerry himself committed his putative administration to a 120-day review of every trade agreement, in comments to the New York Times, to see where “nonbinding” commitments might be better enforced—which is to say, made more binding—on the labor/environmental protection front.
The Kerry endorsement wasn’t IATSE’s only recent tweak of the GOP, by the way. D.C.-area IATSE locals 487 and 600 also successfully organized workers for Washington-based Red October Productions, which is the production arm of Republican media consulting firm Stevens and Schriefer. The company was preparing to shoot a spot for George Bush’s re-election bid, and now, having signed the IATSE agreement, finds itself unable to shoot non-union anywhere in the country.
Similar irony was evident in the other union/senator story, namely the above-the-liners in the Writers Guild of America East honoring none other than Arizona senator John McCain with their Evelyn F. Burkey Award “for one whose contributions have brought honor and dignity to writers everywhere.”
A peculiar honor, perhaps, for a man who recently went public with a call for more regulation of TV content—broadcast and cable—in the aftermath of America’s shocking exposure to an actual female breast during the Super Bowl broadcast. But WGAE’s ostensible reason for honoring McCain was because the senator has also sounded alarums about corporate consolidation of media in the wake of the FCC’s easing of ownership rules.
Where this ties into the concerns of below-the-liners as well is that the perhaps the Writers Guild—facing an expiring contract where DVD revenues will be the thorniest issue—senses that an environment featuring many media/broadcast/film studio players makes it easier for labor, both above and below the line, to negotiate better deals against a small handful of monoliths who may have an easier time holding out against labor demands. Witness the L.A. grocery strike —it’s no coincidence that Ralphs is now owned by Kroger’s, and Vons is owned by Safeway, and these giant corporations resist giving up perceived health care benefits that may affect their other “markets.”
Whether McCain’s alarums will do any good, of course, remains to be seen, since global corporatism is still inexorably affecting economies everywhere. Hence all the labor endorsements for Kerry. To the unions, he represents a last, best chance to even theoretically check the economic power of the corporate sector. As health care costs rise, and union protections everywhere continue to ebb, it will be interesting to see if—in the event of becoming the Democratic nominee and winning the general election—Kerry actually can check such power. Or whether he will.

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