A very happy Labour Day to my North American and Caribbean readers. I myself don’t celebrate it, as the unions I know are either completely out of touch with reality or fatally corrupt. Here are two examples, based on my personal experience as an actor in a previous life…
Back in the last millennium I was a member of The Second City’s National Touring Company. At the time I could proudly boast that I was one of a small elite group earning a weekly salary for performing improvised comedy — that is until the theatre decided to pay us per show instead of per week.
We went to our local CAEA rep to complain, and citing a precedent set by the Polka Dot Door tour (I’m not kidding) we were promised that per-show payment would not stand. Two weeks later we were summoned back to our union rep’s office, where we were informed that per-show payment would actually stand after all.
The reason? At the time The Second City employed some 18-20 Equity actors and three Equity stage managers year-round, and likely didn’t give a fuck if they were a union house or not. Faced with the very real possibility of losing all those dues, the CAEA caved.
ACTRA, who will be marching today’s Labour Day parade in Toronto, is fairly clueless about a lot of things. For example, they somehow think they can get video game makers to hire ACTRA voice talent and pay them residuals — that is, continuing renumeration that extends far beyond the original payment.
This will never work because (1) any “name” actor with a recognizable voice can negotiate a fee much higher than union scale anyway, and (2) any in-house cubicle monkey who can cry out like they’ve been killed three different ways can do the job. ACTRA talent brings nothing of value to the table, just the baggage from old media.
And there’s more: Wal-Mart
Since both my examples above are limited to the Canadian entertainment industry, here’s another example from the wider world. In 2009 blogger Charles Platt took a part-time job at Wal-Mart and wrote about his experience on Boing Boing. A telling quote:
As for all those Wal-Mart horror stories — when I went home and checked the web sites that attack the company, I found that many of them are subsidized with union money […] Why are unions so obsessed with Wal-Mart? I’m guessing that if the more-than-a-million Wal-Mart employees could be unionized they would be compelled to contribute at least half a billion dollars per year in union dues.
Don’t get me wrong — unions were great for keeping Taylorism in check for the 20th century’s first factory workers and are a godsend for the developing world today. And I’m not at all opposed to the idea of workers’ rights. It just seems to me that job one for the unions I know isn’t to look out for the well-being of their members but rather to generate revenue from them in the form of dues.
What do you think?