California Focus: Picket-Line Hypocrisy in Hollywood

Writers' strike reveals Left Coast outrage hinges on whose job is at stake

By Mark Cromer, The Orange County Register, Los Angeles Daily News

What's the difference between an illegal immigrant on a job and a "scab" that crosses a picket line? After all, aren't people both merely seeking work where they can find it? Aren't both willing to toil at a lower wage in an effort to feed their families?

The difference – at least in the ongoing strike by the Writers Guild of America – is Hollywood liberalism and the bicoastal 213/212 area-code universes that ideologically feed it.

For what the strike by the WGA has revealed yet again is that outrage among the Los Angeles-Manhattan intelligentsia over corporate greed, unfair labor practices, stagnating wages and vanishing job security is directly related to the income and education level of those threatened.

Consider for a moment the hundreds of thousands of Californians who have been forced from jobs in construction, landscaping, auto body repair, cable installation and a host of other jobs by an alliance of employers and an ethnocentric lobby that's hungry for demographic power.

These aren't crop-picker or dishwasher jobs that Americans allegedly won't do, but, rather, entire skilled and semiskilled industries that have provided the butter and bread for the working-class table.

Where is the outrage within Hollywood's fabled "Thirty Mile Zone" for these displaced workers?

If there's any anger at all, it's actually directed at the American workers and their supporters for daring to speak out against the employers and the illegal immigrants who replace them on the job. They are belittled as bigots and dismissed as protectionists unable to adjust in a global economy.

But when college-educated writers earning six-figure incomes that are padded with residuals take a bottom-line hit, the rage can be heard from Malibu to Martha's Vineyard.

The writers have taken to the streets for increased profit participation in the DVD and online markets. Those who have crossed the line to continue work have been labeled far worse than just "scabs," and Ellen DeGeneres has faced the scalding wrath of the guild for daring to continue her show through the strike.

Now imagine what would happen if the studios decided to break this strike by using Canadian writers – by the thousands – who, coincidentally, were in the country illegally. And imagine if the political establishment then turned on the striking writers in support of the Canadians, labeling the American writers as hate-fueled "xenophobes."

The Canadian government, in cooperation with the networks and the entertainment lobby, might set up a web of advocacy groups staffed with legal teams to support the Canadians who were, after all, simply willing to accept compensation that Americans considered too low.

As unlikely as those circumstances may seem, that's pretty much what has happened over the past two decades in a wide array of working-class industries. Blue-collar communities have faced greater competition from workers illegally in the country, while simultaneously watching their access to education, health care and other social services suffer as a result of overcrowding and limited resources.

But on the Left Coast today, illegal immigrants who replace blue-collar American workers are portrayed as heroic, "hardworking immigrants." But the very moment they were to take a job from a privileged class of Americans (screenwriters, for example) you can bet they'd get an instant Hollywood makeover into job-poaching "scabs."

As they scream about the networks' greed and unfair practices, it's a safe bet that many of these writers – who earn an average of $200,000 annually – have a nanny at home who doesn't speak English. How many of them are paying their nannies overtime? How many are covering their payroll taxes, disability and unemployment insurance? Do they get paid time off? Do they offer health insurance?

Hardly. And that's precisely why illegal immigrants get the job.

In a fine touch of irony, the so-called "reality" television shows, which are cheaper nonunion productions, may actually provide the networks with enough fresh programming to prevail in the strike.

If that happens, the guild's writers will get a small taste of the bitter reality show that working-class Americans have been subjected to for years.

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