Writers’ and actors’ strikes

Writers' strike

Today, I was going to do a post reviewing a movie I recently watched. Then I thought, what about the ongoing strike? So, for something completely different.


As you may — or may not — have heard, both the Writers Guild of America, and the Actors Union went on strike recently.

First, some history on strikes. I initially thought strikes had emerged sometime during the nineteenth century or so. But, as it turns out, strikes have been around for over three thousand years. Apparently, during the reign of Ramses III in Egypt, artisans went on strike because they had not been paid.

These days, the concept is very different from that of ancient times. Rules for strikes and unions have been embedded in law, and form a crucial part of capitalism. Well, they should anyway.

Union busting

Unions and strikes can be annoying for employers, and often to costumers of targeted companies. They are important, though. Unions represent workers, and more importantly, they represent the power workers have to fight against exploitation.

If you look at the US, companies have very effectively prevented unions from gaining traction in many sectors, and actively combat them. That combined with abysmal labor laws, make it so that US employees are ripe for exploitation. And guess what, that is exactly what is happening.

If you are a US citizen, or follow the goings on in the US, this shouldn’t come as a shock to you. But, should you not know: US workers work long hours, with less vacation and sick days than the rest of us in the western world, with the added bonus of a horrible parental leave system, and barely any social security.

Unions are the front line in combating this. To be clear, the problems are pervasive and many-faceted, but weak unionization is one cause. But there are some exceptions.


So, what is happening in US movie land? Early May, the writer’s guild (WGA) voted to start a strike. That strike is ongoing, but now an actor’s union (SAG-AFTRA) has joined.

I haven’t studied this in-depth, because I’m neither a movie writer, or an actor, or a US citizen. But as far as I gather from media, the issue is two-fold. Both the writers and actors are worried about so-called residuals, and they are worried what studios intend to do with AI.

Residuals are payments actors and writers receive for re-runs, DVD sales, and streaming of the works they created. Because actors and writers are usually not actual employees, but contract hires, they need some way to have a steady income. Since entertainment is a fickle beasts for hiring people, a lump-sum payment for doing a movie or TV show won’t work. So, residuals were introduced.

Then came the rise of streaming services and a problem emerged. Streaming platforms have cut the link between popularity and earnings. If a show is number 1 on Netflix for a month, that might indirectly lead to more people signing up, but there is no way to tie the two together. Even if you wanted to, streaming services refuse to give out viewing numbers. As a result, residuals have gone into free-fall. Actors get payments for less than a dollar, where they used to get thousands of dollars. I get why a sudden hundred-fold or thousand-fold drop in income is disconcerting.

The second problem is AI. Executives are already eyeing the new ‘disruptive’ technology. Can they use it to cut costs or make more profit for less payout? In other words, can they use it to make the shareholders and themselves more money?

Writers are worried they will be replaced. Or they will be relegated to editing the garbage AIs spew out, but for far less pay. And for good cause, executives are eyeing AI for exactly that. Actors are also worried, because movie studios want to capture people’s looks and obtain the rights to use them forever with AI. That will quickly remove the job of ‘extra’. Worse, if an actor hits it big, and they were forced to sell their image early on in their career, studios can make a buck using their images for who knows what. Again, that’s not fiction, it’s already in the works.

So, yeah, I get why there’s a strike on.

Reviews and influencers

So, what about reviews? I post about movies and TV shows regularly, but I have nothing to do with either union. That said, any form of (free) advertisement for movies will make money for the studios that are targeted by the strike. In other words, it puts you on the side of the studios in the conflict. Should you be there? I don’t think so.

There is a second aspect, which does not apply to me, but does to others. Influencers make money from the companies they promote. Some influencers are paid to promote shows and TV series. They basically do work for the studios. They can even be working under an agreement by SAG-AFTRA

If you look at the definition of a ‘scab’ or strike breaker, this is somebody who takes work from a company that is hit by a strike. Yeah. That seems to apply. But, it’s even more complicated. As an influencer you can be making money indirectly. You get advertising income from people visiting your site, and the movie studio gets free advertisement. No money is exchanged directly, but it can be considered scabbing.

In other words, unfluencers, and by extension any review site, is not completely neutral.


So, two reasons not to publish reviews: you can be worried you’ll get into trouble with the acting/writing community, or you can simply empathize with the cause.

I sympathize. I don’t think I’m likely to start writing TV shows any time soon, or be cast in a movie. Or be an influencer with enough leverage to get an advertising deal. Stranger things have happened, but I doubt it.

I do think arts are important, and the combination of AI and callous streaming services is threatening to kills arts. That’s just wrong. I’d rather we pay writers and actors a basic income than an executive or shareholder more millions.

So, no movie reviews for now, but the above rant about the writer’s strike. Not for legal reasons, but because it seems the right thing to do. Sorry if you don’t care about that, hopefully movie reviews will return soon.

Martin Stellinga Written by:

I'm a science fiction and fantasy writer from the Netherlands