My friend in the visual effects industry was over on Thanksgiving. Even though he was recognized with an Oscar for his work in special make up effects and known for his work in the film industry, it seems he is not immune to the rust belt factor. It was sad to hear that he and his partner are struggling as if they were newcomers to the biz and tired to the bone of the way the studios are treating them and everyone they know -- whittling down budgets, then delaying payment, not wanting to pay overtime, etc.. These mean MBAs run everything now and they keep their jobs by exploiting everyone they can. After 27 years of steady work, given the current situation, my friends have no reason to expect things will get better for them and are even talking about getting out of the film business entirely -- selling everything and moving -- who knows where.
>> November 19, 1999
>> IS FREE TRADE MAKING HOLLYWOOD A RUSTBELT?
>> By David Bacon <dbacon at igc.org>
>> Hollywood a rustbelt?
>> That's what studio workers are beginning to call
>> administration trade policies are coming home to Los
Angeles with a
>> vengeance, they claim, affecting workers far removed from
>> industries. According to Michael Everett, of the
Hollywood Fair Trade
>> Campaign, even the city's crown jewel, the motion picture
>> is on the chopping block.
>> "Our own political leaders have arranged a
system of trade
>> agreements designed to enhance corporate profits by
shipping our jobs
>> offshore," Everett says. "In exchange for
NAFTA-sanctioned subsidies from
>> Canada and elsewhere, the studios have turned their backs
on their own
>> community and have engaged in the wholesale destruction
of the Hollywood
>> jobs base."
>> Earlier this month, Everett and other Hollywood
>> organized demonstrations, supported by the LA County
>> during a dinner hosted by the Motion Picture Association
of America at the
>> Rita Hayworth Dining Room at Sony Studios, honoring
>> Bill Daley and his "Free Trade Education Tour." Daley
was greeted by
>> dozens of boistrous protesters from various studio
>> International Association of Theatrical and Stage
Employees Locals 44
>> (props), 728 (set lighting), 705 (wardrobe), 695 (sound
>> 600 (camera operators). Supporters came from other
unions as well,
>> including the longshoremen, communications workers and
state, county and
>> municipal employees.
>> Jobs are only going to Canada, say studio unions.
>> Twentieth-Century Fox made last year's most popular move,
Titanic, in a
>> maquiladora in Rosarito, sixty miles south of the
border. And after
>> production was over, the independent and militant Mexican
>> represented workers there was forced out by government
support for a more
>> conservative union, more friendly to foreign companies.
>> There's not much disagreement among U.S. unions
>> Hollywood has a problem, or that it's shared with
millions of other
>> workers in dozens of industries in the rest of the
country, and the world.
>> No one argues that trade policies have a profound effect
on jobs. But as
>> thousands of union members prepare to go to Seattle, to
demonstrate in the
>> streets outside of possibly the most important set of
>> this century, there is increasingly bitter disagreement
in labor over what
>> it will take to solve the problem, or even who the enemy
>> Unions are mobilizing their members to protest
the negotiations of
>> the World Trade Organization, an organization set up five
years ago to
>> enforce the increasing number of free trade agreements
which set the rules
>> for the global economy. Those rules, unions say, are
>> governments to increase the ability of multinational
corporations to earn
>> profits around the world.
>> Ron Judd, head of Seattle's central labor
council, predicts that
>> as many as 50,000 labor, social justice and community
activists will pour
>> into the city's streets as the WTO meeting begins on
November 30. "This
>> demonstration is intended to send a message, not just to
>> administration, but to all administrations around the
world, that the
>> rules as they're written do not work for workers and
communities, and that
>> they undermine environmental and health standards.
Something has to
>> The AFL-CIO believes that future trade agreements
can be written
>> in such a way that they protect workers rights and the
>> as existing agreements protect corporate profits. The
union federation is
>> calling on the WTO to incorporate five international
>> into the text of future treaties. These five agreements,
written by the
>> International Labor Organization, would guarantee workers
>> right to organize unions and to bargain collectively with
>> would restrict child labor, prohibit forced labor, and
>> discrimination. They would be enforced by the WTO, which
already uses the
>> threat of vast financial consequences against governments
>> existing trade rules.
>> Juan Somavia, the ILO's secretary-general, says
>> "is putting in place the social ground rules of the
global economy." Even
>> Somavia, however, doesn't believe the conventions are a
>> "There's no vaccination against the ills of work," he
>> Nevertheless, Barbara Shailor, who heads the
>> international affairs department, says that incorporating
>> workers into trade agreements can protect their rights.
She compares it
>> to the effort at the turn of the century to adopt
national laws in the
>> U.S. to enforce fair labor standards like the minimum
wage and 8-hour day.
>> "We have to create the political will to get them
>> agreements in an enforceable fashion," she asserts.
"That's the challenge
>> we face. If we didn't believe it was possible, I don't
know why we'd be
>> doing all this mobilizing. As you know, there are rules
for capital that
>> are successfully incorporated into these agreements, and
this is the time
>> and the place to get them for labor."
>> A number of unions inside the AFL-CIO, however,
don't think it's
>> possible to make the WTO enforce workers' rights. "It's
like asking the
>> fox to guard the henhouse," says Brian McWilliams,
president of the
>> International Longshore and Warehouse Union. He calls
>> "an honorable thing to do," but says "it's not good
enough. Nor will it
>> answer the exploitation of workers. There has to be
>> outside the WTO to police workers' rights worldwide."
>> George Becker, president of the steelworkers
union, is even more
>> emphatic, calling the WTO and the trade structure
>> "There's nothing in it for working people. Nothing.
That law exists to
>> support multinationals. It's not for workers. There's
no way that you
>> can put a comma here or change a word there to make it
>> not our law. Scrap it."
>> While unions which oppose the WTO process are
>> protectionist, McWilliams retorts that his union owes its
>> trade. "We're not against fair trade, we're against free
>> explains. "If workers aren't going to be able to find
dignity and justice
>> in the workplace along this road to corporate prosperity,
we're going to
>> resist it every way we can."
>> According to McWilliams, Becker and their allies,
>> agreement has already demonstrated that worker
>> unenforceable. When NAFTA was negotiated in 1994, it
>> side-agreement, the North American Agreement on Labor
>> was supposed to protect workers' rights in Mexico, Canada
and the U.S. In
>> the last five years, however, over 15 cases have been
filed alleging that
>> the U.S. and Mexican governments especially have not
enforced labor laws,
>> and that workers have been fired and unions broken as a
>> The best-known example has been the effort by
workers at the Han
>> Young factory in Tijuana to organize an independent union
and conduct a
>> legal strike. Judicial authorities in both the U.S. and
>> agreed that their right to do so was illegally denied by
>> government, but the NAFTA process failed completely to
make any meaningful
>> Leo Girard, a national vice-president of the
>> labor solidarity is a better answer, pointing to his
union's long support
>> of the Han Young workers. "The kind of trading regime
>> NAFTA and the WTO is not meant to improve the quality of
life," he argues.
>> "This trade simply benefits the employers. It represents
an extension of
>> exploitation rather than a diminishing of it."
>> The AFL-CIO counters that the NAFTA sideagreement
>> teeth for enforcement, a problem it says can be corrected
by having the
>> WTO enforce labor protections, just as it enforces those
>> corporations. McWilliams is doubtful, pointing out that
>> government itself has only ratified one of the five ILO
>> is unlikely to push the WTO to enforce international
agreements it doesn't
>> itself recognize. "We have one of the worst records of
>> international labor union rights of any industrial nation
>> These differences surfaced in October at the
AFL-CIO convention in
>> Los Angeles, where a number of unions, including the
ILWU, the Auto
>> Workers and the Teamsters, abstained from endorsing
Vice-President Al Gore
>> in his quest for the presidency, citing his support for
>> Those divisions grew even sharper after the
>> AFL-CIO President John Sweeney signed on to a letter from
>> Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiations,
>> administration goals for the WTO talks. Sweeney sits on
>> with heads of major corporations, who also signed it.
The letter supports
>> administration action to gain greater access for U.S.
>> investors abroad.
>> Sweeney said he'd gained assurances from the
>> it would press in return for a working group on labor
issues. An AFL-CIO
>> statement calls the commitment "a sharp departure from
>> community's previous position that workers' rights are in
no way the
>> domain of the WTO," and calls for a hard fight "to make
the WTO a more
>> democratic and accountable institution."
>> Nevertheless, the moved stunned many union
>> Yokich, president of the United Auto Workers, resigned as
chair of the
>> AFL-CIO Manufacturing and Industrial Committee in
protest. "Good trade
>> policy does not trickle down from flawed assumptions
about 'free trade'
>> and its impact," he said, "[nor] from 'pie in the sky'
rhetoric that we
>> have heard for years that acknowledges labor and
environmental issues but
>> does nothing concrete or enforceable to address them."
>> Teamsters President James Hoffa also announced
his opposition to
>> Sweeney's move. The Canadian Labour Congress was even
more blunt in
>> differing with the AFL-CIO approach. "The struggle by
>> justice groups and environmentalists is about more than
just winning a
>> seat at the table, or a 'social clause' or environmental
rules," a CLC
>> statement declared. "We're determined to change the
entire trade regime."
>> Behind the official statements, however, are
obvious concerns by
>> AFL-CIO leaders over the potential fallout from a big
battle with the
>> Clinton administration over trade policy. On the one
hand, the AFL-CIO is
>> going all-out to mobilize union members to Seattle to
>> free trade, an issue unionists care about deeply. But at
the same time,
>> federation leaders face an uphill battle to get those
same members to vote
>> for the very politicians who support free trade,
>> chosen successor, Al Gore.
>> Hollywood's Michael Everett is probably their
>> "Hollywood workers will not roll over for policies that
export our jobs,"
>> he announced. "We won't give endorsements, we won't walk
>> won't give money, and we won't vote for ANY politicians
of any party who
>> support trade agreements that export our jobs."
>> Then, in contrast to his stance towards the
administration on the
>> WTO, Sweeney issued a strong denunciation of China, after
>> negotiated terms under which it will be admitted to the
>> attacked China for human rights abuses, calling it "a
rogue nation," a
>> term used by U.S. military planners to designate
potential targets for
>> both military attack and economic sanctions in the post
coldwar era, such
>> as Serbia, Iraq or North Korea.
>> Union leaders and trade campaigners then lined up
>> China at a Washington, DC, press conference beside Harry
Wu, a fellow at
>> the ultra-conservative Hoover Institution at Stanford
University. Wu has
>> a long history of alliances with Sweeney's conservative
>> AFL-CIO leadership. He spoke before the 1995 AFL-CIO
>> that thousands of U.S. workers were losing jobs because
of prison camps
>> "run by the Chinese government and its Communist Party."
>> At the time, retiring AFL-CIO President Lane
Kirkland was under
>> attack for inaction in the face of administration trade
>> before the start of Clinton's 1996 reelection campaign.
>> rhetoric blamed China, rather than NAFTA, for U.S. job
>> itself, which resulted in the loss of over 170,000 jobs,
>> discussed at that convention.
>> Wu's reappearance in the current WTO debate in
the AFL-CIO may
>> signal a similar effort to make China the enemy, rather
>> negotiating stance at the WTO. Sweeney and leaders of
the auto and steel
>> workers, while disagreeing over their attitude toward
>> policy, found common ground in condemning China. The
>> transforming or dismantling the WTO is suddenly becoming
a fight over
>> whether to admit China to the club, which currently
includes 76 other
>> But whether superheated anti-China rhetoric
becomes a big
>> ingredient in Seattle or not, the primary source of the
loss of Los
>> Angeles jobs remains closer to home. Hollywood studios
move production to
>> Canada and Rosarito. San Fernando Valley's Price Pfister
plant moved to
>> Mexicali two years ago. The LA basin is living with the
>> NAFTA, and has acquired a bitter experience with the
failure of its
>> promise to protect workers rights.
>> "Only a united front of labor will have the power
to break NAFTA,"
>> Everett concludes, "and stop the WTO from destroying our
>> communities, and our children's future."
>> Copyright (c) 1999 David Bacon. All Rights Reserved.