Still Not A Paid Up Member …

Continuing on the theme for this week’s blog (which if you haven’t guessed yet should be known as How to Lose Friends and Alienate People) … I have been sitting and thinking long and hard about the WGA Strike. It’s been around two months since the strike began and while negotiations with small companies have been successful, I’m not sure the the WGA have always taken the right stand (I’m referring to the deal they gave to The Late Show but wouldn’t give to The Daily Show or The Colbert Report … I understand that one is wholly owned by an independent company and that the other is partially owned by Comedy Central who in turn are owned by Viacom, but given that The Late Show is running on CBS (who in the form of the AMPTP walked out of the negotiations) and CBS can get money from advertisers as well as have rating that go through the roof as they are one of the only scripted shows back on, it doesn’t make sense to me) … I think they’re missing out on some great tactics that could help them get the best deal for the people they represent – the writers …

As it stands I’m not a member of the New Zealand Writer’s Guild. This isn’t because of any stubborn stand, it’s because until recently they had a crappy website and I couldn’t figure out how to join. I’m still mulling on whether to join or not. I’m lucky enough to be represented by an agent and as a writer of the not very sexy or popular mediums of theatre and radio, I’m not sure that there is much the Guild can offer me. Sure, solidarity and such for other writers, but selfishly, I’m wondering what they can do for me?

In general, and my lord am I going to alienate a lot of you, I’m not a fan of unions. Now before you throw me to the wolves or cancel our lunch dates let me explain. So once upon a time (yes, I know, more back story), my mum was an employee of the Post Office back in the days when the Post Office would be referred to with capital letters and used to do a multitude of things like Motor Registry (where Mum was), Telecommunications, Banking. One day, and I can’t remember the details, Mum had a dispute with Post Office management and went to her union for help (Mum, if you can legally, do you mind emailing me the details so I can post it?). The union thought about it and then decided that it was better if they didn’t get involved. So Mum with some help from Bapuji took her case straight to the Ombudsman. They ruled in Mum’s favour and her case was one of the many used to justify the breaking up of the Post Office into separate entities.

My beef with unions, be it right or wrong, is this – they don’t always have the best interests of their members at heart and sometimes the more vulnerable (the ones who really need them) get trampled on for the sake of some other agenda that the union may have. They are occasionally too blinkered and can’t see the bigger picture. Frankly, for my dues, they don’t do enough.

This of course is all from the perspective of someone who grew up through the economic reforms of the ’84 Labour Government and doesn’t actually have a union as a theatre tech (well, I think we come under the Engineers Union but what the hell do they know about running a theatre?) – so I’ve never experienced life with a nice functioning union. If I were a teacher, I’d probably think differently.

There will be many of you who will argue, and with good reason, that I benefit from many of the rights that unions have won for the workers. Yeah I’m sure you’re right, as an independent contractor I’m sure there are many benefits, hard won by unions that I take for granted.

Meh, I still don’t know …


One Response to “Still Not A Paid Up Member …”

  1. Man Sonal, I can’t believe you!!

    Just kidding…

    I happen to have a similar feeling – I totally agree with unions in principle, and if it was relevant to my occupation (ie if I was a teacher or a nurse or a whatever-else-has-an-active-union-that-actually-does-stuff) I am sure I would join one.

    But I also think many of them are ineffectual in practise. (I guess the writers strike is yet to show how effective the WGA are being – I also agree that the Letterman concession is strange, and think they need to stop giving them out.)

    I sat in on many union meetings in my HR job when I first got over here, and it was staggering seeing how easy it was for those specific Union reps to be entirely flummoxed and trampled over. On one hand, I totally disagree with corporations manipulating, lying to, and intentionally confusing and misleading Unions. But on the other hand, those reps really needed to up their game. If I was a member of that Union I’d have been horrified to see how they dealt with things.

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