Can SAG-AFTRA’s Success Inspire Actors Unions Worldwide?

Speaking to CNN on Thursday, shortly after SAG-AFTRA announced it had made its historic deal ending the actors strike, SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher told CNN Anchor Kate Bolduan the union’s success had “ignited a workers movement around the world.”

Reports of the 118-day walkout were headline news from Spain to Seoul and from London, Ontario to London, England. Unions representing actors and other entertainment professionals largely stood in solidarity with their American counterparts and were quick to congratulate SAG-AFTRA when they secured a new, tentative three-year agreement. Many are also looking stateside for inspiration in their own labor battles.

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“We are immensely proud of SAG-AFTRA for taking on this incredible fight for all performers around the world,” said Gabrielle Carteris, the former SAG-AFTRA president who now heads up the International Federation of Actors (FIA), a global federation of performers’ trade unions and guilds representing hundreds of thousands of performers in more than 60 countries worldwide. “Streaming and A.I. are global realities within our industry affecting the future of work and our ability as actors to earn a meaningful living wage.”

FIA General Secretary Dominick Luquer said SAG-AFTRA’s achievement “will undoubtedly strengthen the determination of performer unions worldwide to continue fighting with courage and confidence for higher standards, respect, equity, and to help each other out in a globalized industry.”

Producers worldwide welcomed the end of the U.S. actors strike. “[It’s] a positive development for the entire film industry” noted Martin Moskowitz, CEO of German mini-major Constantin Film, producers of the Resident Evil franchise. “We are confident that we can now quickly resume the projects that were paused or postponed due to the strike [particularly] productions that involve an international cast or rely on collaboration with American partners.”

But there is concern in some quarters that the labor disputes brought to a head in the U.S. could now go global.

“I was just in Europe a couple of weeks ago, and they are starting to come together in Europe as well,” said Lourdes Diaz, Chief Creative Officer at independent production group AGC Studios (Hitman, Woman of the Hour), speaking at the American Film Market Nov. 2. “So there will be more upheaval.”

Just a week after the SAG-AFTRA strike began in July, Paul Fleming, the head of British actors’ union Equity, spoke at a solidarity rally in London, declaring that his organization was “strike ready” ahead of its upcoming negotiations with U.K. producers union PACT. Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter on Nov. 10, he said it’s a position his organization still maintains.

“We’re looking to be sat around the table with a comprehensive claim around Easter, and then we’ll see how quickly and how well that moves,” Fleming said, adding that Equity has planned a “series of tactics” over how to take industrial action should “negotiations not reach a reasonable conclusion.”

Any U.K. dispute would likely come to a head around the summer of 2024. “It hopefully won’t get to that point,” Fleming said, noting that restrictive industrial relations legislation in the U.K. makes calling a strike a more complicated process than in the U.S.

Walkouts and other labor action are less common among international entertainment unions, in part because global guilds have traditionally exercised less influence over the major studios and local production companies than their Hollywood compatriots. The structure of the entertainment industry also varies from country to country, as do workers’ demands. Healthcare, for example, is less an issue in Europe, which has widespread free or state-sponsored care.

But SAG-AFTRA’s fight resonates worldwide with actors, who see similar threats to their livelihood.

“Basically, workers need a pay rise, inflation is rampant, and the industry is doing very fucking well and the workforce is not proportionally sharing that,” said Fleming.

A.I. is another major concern, with creators worried that unless strict regulations on artificial intelligence are put in place, the studios and streamers will be able to appropriate their work, or likenesses, without proper consent or compensation.

Marie Kelly, national executive director and lead negotiator for ACTRA, Canada’s actors union, told THR she is looking ahead to negotiations starting in mid-2024 on a new labor deal for her members with North American producers. She said her rank and file members will be ready for a fight if the local industry plays hardball like the major studios and streamers did with SAG-AFTRA.

“In Canada, performers face many, many of the same issues performers face in the U.S.,” Kelly told THR, including a need to put fences around new artificial intelligence tools to protect actors, fair compensation after the streaming era drastically reduced back-end or residual payments and inflation eating into wage strength.

“Those three issues are big issues for performers here in Canada. They will be front and center along with other issues when we meet the industry next year,” Kelly said ahead of negotiations on a new Independent Production Agreement, which governs workplace rates and conditions for Canadian actors.

She adds ACTRA has yet to see and study the new SAG-AFTRA deal with the AMPTP to judge whether the U.S. agreement could provide a template for Canadian actor-producer contract renewal talks next year.

But Kelly points to ACTRA members having stood firm in the face of an 18-month commercial lock-out by the Institute of Canadian Agencies, which represents domestic ad agencies, as evidence of the Canadian union’s resolve ahead of the upcoming IPA talks with North American producers.

“I hope the industry will want to have stability and will understand that performers generally are prepared to stand up for these issues and we can have constructive conversations that lead to a deal, and they also need to know that Canadian performers are no pushovers. We’re easy to work with, but hard to fight,” she said.

In 2007, ACTRA called its members out on strike after talks with North American producers on a new IPA deal stumbled on the thorny issue of new-media residuals.

In countries such as the U.K. and Canada, where the local industries are heavily dependent on servicing visiting Hollywood productions, the desire for further industrial action may be less strident.

A recent survey by British below-the-line union Bectu of 4,000 freelancers found that 80 percent had their employment directly impacted by the SAG-AFTRA strike, with three-quarters out of work.

“There’ll be no appetite among actors, filmmakers and crew to go on another strike once we’re back up and running,” says Brit producer Jonathan Weissler. “We don’t really have a British film industry, we have a concierge service for American studios and streamers. So we won’t want to bite the hand that feeds us.”

But Fleming asserts that, at least among his membership, he hasn’t seen any sort of “wavering,” and that they all complied when Equity was policing U.S. productions in the U.K. to ensure they couldn’t recast with non-SAG-AFTRA actors.

“People get screwed over by their bosses 365 days of the year, every year of their working life,” he says. “Facing hardship because of 118 days of strike action is a drop in the ocean.”

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