“The endgame is to allow things to drag on until union members start losing their apartments and losing their houses,” an anonymous studio executive reportedly told Deadline earlier this summer.
Though this statement was about the ongoing writer’s strike (which SAG actors have since joined), you can apply it to just about any industry, as workers all over the country—from warehouses to railroads—have rallied against corporate greed.
You wouldn’t have expected the elite film and TV industry to facilitate a major battle of the growing class war, with the beloved “Nanny” as its five-star general, but even Hollywood couldn’t have written a better script.
If you’ve paid any attention to labor issues in the past few years– sparked by the demands of both stay-at-home orders and the reliance on frequently Black and Latino essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic–people have grown tired of their jobs. And not just tired, but angry. It’s led to more strikes and demands for better work conditions, with strikes growing 50% in 2022 over the previous year. Many of the bigwigs don’t seem to have caught on to the brewing frustrations.
It’s easy to think of this as a blip in the system. Unions can negotiate. The bosses will negotiate back. And the two parties will live and work happily ever after.
But this is not the capitalism that exists in the 21st century. What we’re learning is that super rich CEOs often want even more riches and to let workers just “bleed out,” no matter how cartoonishly evil it comes across.
Under this version of capitalism (though all the versions have sucked for most people, and especially Black people, let’s be real):
- It’s not just Hollywood where families are being squeezed out of their homes. Only 10 of the country’s 50 largest cities enable you to comfortably afford a two-bedroom apartment on minimal wage—and that’s with two full-time workers in the household. In the “Black Mecca” of Atlanta? It takes 5 people living in a single home to afford rent, according to research from Zillow.
- You want to buy a home instead? Well the ability to buy one is at its lowest level since 2006.
- Homelessness in the U.S. has been growing by 6% every year since 2017– go figure.
- The richest one percent in the world captured two-thirds of the wealth generated since 2020.
As big companies rake in record profits, workers have been shouldering multiple jobs just to pay the rent. And the employees who did it “right”– got their degree(s), bought a home, and found a “good” job are suffering from burnout and finding that salaries aren’t quite keeping up with how damn expensive everything is.
And don’t even get me started on the pseudo-scam of homeownership (I’m still reeling from the image of water gushing out of two of my ceilings TWO weeks after I moved into my home, forgive me) and all the financial burdens that we’re expected to undertake in adulthood.
It all makes you wonder if we should just throw up our hands, throw away our degree(s) and become a Tik Tok streamer instead.
Ah, yes, yes, yes, how much easier would our lives be?
In this absurdly hypercapitalist world, we are finding people being strange for a piece of change. It’s easy to scoff at (or be resentful of) the new, unusual ways people are earning a living. But workers are just adapting to their conditions, whether it’s spouting senseless phrases on livestreams, creating Only Fans accounts, or monetizing their lives and careers. We really can’t hate the player (or non-player character), we have to be more critical of the game.
Even some Republicans are realizing that the trickle-down capitalism that has pissed on our heads since the Reagan era is also harming their constituents and can undermine their electoral success. So they’re pivoting.
Right-wing darling Marco Rubio introduced a “pro-worker” labor reform bill last year to strengthen unions. And of course, Donald Trump famously tapped into white working-class angst in his ascent to the presidency (just before giving big businesses and the wealthy a nearly $2 trillion dollar tax break of course) They know the strictly pro-business campaign messaging isn’t sustainable. And we know things have to change.
Recent labor movement activity this #HotLaborSummer gives us some measure of hope.
Last week, the Teamsters union representing UPS workers reached a tentative deal after its members—many of them Black delivery drivers— loudly threatened the company with a strike. They won “accelerated pay raises for part-time workers, bumping their hourly pay from $15.50 to $21 immediately, and up to a starting hourly rate of $23 by the end of the contract. Full-time workers will average $49 an hour,” The Lever reports.
Amazon Labor Union members are still in the trenches fighting for an agreement that will provide them with better work conditions and pay after becoming the first and only certified union representing Amazon warehouse workers.
And of course, the Writers Guild of America and Screen Actors Guild have made these issues even more visible, decrying worker exploitation and reviving the rhetoric of ‘60s revolutionaries. Let’s just hope (and fight for) our fairy tale ending in the real world, too.