Hollywood is on pause. You can see it in the daily pickets in front of major studios and how nearly every movie and TV show has stopped production. This is what happens when the Writer’s Guild of America (WGA) and the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) go on strike simultaneously, and it is a sight to behold. The WGA has been on strike since May 2nd, and the SAG-AFTRA joined them on July 14th. Neither these unions nor the studios that employ them show any signs of backing down. What drove the artists behind Hollywood to take an action this drastic? 

Like workers in many other industries, screenwriters and actors in America are unionized. This means that the groups can negotiate as a collective for better wages, labor rights, and other benefits. When negotiations fail and union members grow desperate, they can vote to stop working entirely until their employers meet their needs. This action is called a strike, and unions do not invoke them lightly. Striking workers do not work, so they do not get paid. On the other hand, the work does not get done, so employers lose money for as long as the strike lasts. The end goal is always a negotiation between the two disagreeing sides. Both the striking workers and the studio executives that employ them want this strike to end as quickly as possible, but they have extremely different goals. The strikers demand increased pay for their work on streaming services, protection against AI, and stronger job security in a changing industry. The employers want no substantial change, as any money paid to actors and writers is money that doesn’t become profit. 

The fears of the writers and actors are not unfounded. The landscape of film and television is changing, and it has become increasingly hostile to creators. Crewmembers are paid little in residuals when shows are streamed online compared to the past when all shows aired on a TV channel. The industry has begun favoring shorter seasons and larger franchises, leaving creators with less work and less freedom. The threat of AI being used to write shows or generate background actors is also growing. The biggest reason, however, and why the strikers are so determined to win, is that studio executives have had no sympathy for striking creatives. On July 11th, Deadline reported that a studio executive said, “The endgame is to allow things to drag on until union members start losing their apartments and losing their houses.” Three days after this rumor went viral, SAG-AFTRA joined the strike and fully shut down Hollywood. Now, at the start of October, the strike has dragged on to the point where financial ruin is becoming a real threat for both sides. At the time of writing, the unions have begun another round of negotiating with their employers. Still, there is no sign that these negotiations will succeed where others have failed. 

This is not the first strike in Hollywood. Both the WGA and SAG-AFTRA have stopped working in the past. However, the last time the two unions went on strike simultaneously was in 1960. That strike lasted for 142 days, and changed the foundations of the entertainment industry. At the time of writing, the 2023 strikes have lasted for 143 days.