Wednesday, June 11, 2003

The Culture: Monopsonies against Monopoly

There are two major unions representing actors and other media artists: the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. For years, there's been a movement to merge the two unions together, a cause which once again has picked up steam. Nothing wrong with that, certainly. If two voluntary groups decide it's in their self-interest to join forces, then we should wish them the best of luck.

Of course, the reason SAG and AFTRA are looking to merge at this time is interesting:
The Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists -- which are pushing to consolidate -- issued a joint statement using the FCC action as solid evidence that their unions need to merge for self-protection.

"Today's ruling by the FCC makes the consolidation of SAG and AFTRA even more urgent and necessary," Melissa Gilbert, SAG's national president, and John Connolly, her counterpart at AFTRA, said in their joint release. "The FCC has voted 'yes' to giving media companies even more power. Now, actors, broadcasters and recording artists must respond to this action by voting 'YES' for new power of our own. We must approve consolidation so that we can match strength with strength.

"By joining together, our members will have a stronger, more effective union with the clout to fight for more jobs and higher wages," Gilbert and Connolly stressed. "That's why it's no surprise the media conglomerates don't want us to consolidate. Our members know employers will not look out for our best interests, and the employer agenda should not be a factor in deciding our future."
SAG and AFTRA vigorously opposed the FCC's recent reregulation vote, which is interesting considering their own merger proposal. Gilbert and Connolly said the FCC was "giving media companies even more power," as if somehow the media companies didn't earn their rightful economic power in the marketplace despite arbitrary government restrictions. Keep in mind, as labor unions, SAG and AFTRA can essentially compel the studios to collectively bargain with them, a function of law giving labor unions special political power not available to the general public. SAG and AFTRA can also, pursuant to collective bargaining, force their contract terms on non-union members who seek to work as actors and artists.

And frankly, given that there are many wealthy members of SAG and AFTRA, you'd think that if they were that concerned about the media companies' power, some of them would get together and buy their own movie studio or television network.

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