Over the last 12 weeks or so, I've been following the news about the writers' strike in the USA. At first, I just sort of dismissed it as "one of those things". I mean, it's only about TV scriptwriters, right? Do I care if Scrubs production grinds to a halt? Not really - I don't really watch a lot of TV and I'm not really a huge fan of US TV programmes (the last time I watched a US series was way back when, when I developed an unhealthy liking for Thirtysomething). But I've been thinking.
The Writers Guild is clearly very powerful, if it can wreck award ceremonies and disrupt the production of TV programmes. And I'm impressed by the solidarity shown by actors across the pond in not crossing picket lines.
As I confessed in my last post, I have rejoined the NUJ after a break of some 15 years. One reason I hesitated rejoining for so long is that I think it is toothless. Granted, any union is better than none, but despite being a believer in the power of the union, I've never felt the NUJ was much cop. When I first entered my trade, the union had a stranglehold on Fleet Street that could only be described as unhealthy. I knew the person who had invented "unworked overtime" which the union forced employers to pay - a top-up on top of overtime rates, which the workers got on an overtime shift even if there was no work for them to do and they spent the time in the pub. That's just daft. And it was scenarios such as that that encouraged Thatcher to trash the unions, a situation from which they have never recovered. I'm glad the closed shop has ended; I never approved of it as it encouraged a "jobs for the boys" atmosphere and nepotism.
But what power does the NUJ have now? Not a lot, I'd say. When my reapplication was approved, the accompanying letter said "see below for details of your local branch officer". I looked and it said "position vacant, call head office if you need to talk to someone". How depressing is that? I live in a city that has two commercial radio stations and three local rags and between them they can't muster a branch officer. I wonder why I bother for £15 a month.
I'd bend over backwards for a union that had the power of the Writers' Guild. Can you imagine if the NUJ called a strike? No newspapers appearing every day, magazine production somewhat erratic, and picket lines and boycotts supported by those on the periphery of the industry...
I guess not. I'll just keep taking the pills and dreaming.
It would be nice, though, wouldn't it?