Historical accident has thrown me into contact with the Writers Guild of America west (WGAw), the organization of people who write movies and television shows. There is also a WGA East, which has more of the news writers in it. On the west coast, the WGA really means
My connection with the Guild lies in the fact that a friend from the garment workers' union (ILGWU in those days), David Young, went to work there as director of organizing. He has since become the Executive Director and brought in a number of old ILG people, including Jeff Hermanson, who is now director of organizing. When David started there he invited me to help him think through what he was going to do. Now that a full research and organizing staff has been put in place, there is really nothing for me to contribute, but I still attend a weekly organizing and research meeting, and try to think about it a bit.
The WGA occupies a strategic niche in global capitalism. Their employers are the giant media conglomerates, including Viacom, CBS, News Corp (Fox), Disney, Time Warner, and GE NBC. These companies own and control television and movie production, newspapers, book publishing companies, theme parks, and much more. They are moving onto the web. They play a huge role in shaping the culture and ideology not only of the
We all have lots of criticisms of "the media." Just about every social problem can be blamed, in part, on them. They encourage violence, promote stereotypes, push consumerism, dull our understanding of society and politics, and on and on. They are the creators and perpetuators of capitalist ideology. The fact that television, in particular, depends heavily on advertising, means that they are tightly linked with corporate America, and play a critical role in trying to get us to buy, buy, buy.
Now the question is: what role can a class conscious union play when their employer is such a powerful social force in support of capitalism? Is there any way that the union could push for a more progressive media, or at least openings within the media for more progressive possibilities to gain expression?
One could, I suppose, argue that such openings already exist. Michael Moore is able to do his thing, and there are certainly movies that are critical of the
Could the Guild try to play a role in opening up social debate, I wonder? Could the Guild push against the overwhelming and increasing role of advertising in our lives? Is there a way in which this union could stand for more than the interests of its members? (These are questions that, I think, can be asked of every union. Can unions be moving us towards socialism, and if so, how?)
Of course, this was tried after World War II, and brought the wrath of the establishment in the form of HUAC and the Hollywood Blacklist. I am feeling the need to study this period more closely. What did the CP try to accomplish in
Edna Bonacich is an emeritus professor of Sociology and Ethnic Studies at the University of California,