Stephen A. Waddell, national executive director of the English-speaking Canadian actor's union, the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA) appeared at the Millennium Hotel on Oct 19 in support of striking American actors.
The purpose and meaning of Waddell's appearance, which was largely symbolic, involved an effort by labor to show that efforts to move commercial production outside the United States would be met with increasing resistance from talent unions in other countries.
In principle, ACTRA has been on the same page as SAG and AFTRA from the beginning of the strike. Yet, in a newsletter that Waddell handed out as tangible evidence of his memberships' support, ACTRA outlined the SAG/AFTRA strike situation as critical. The newsletter asked ACTRA members to boycott Proctor and Gamble products and, perhaps more importantly, to refuse to accept some of the voluminous non-union commercial work that has become available in Canada since the six month-old strike began.
The fact that the Canadian union would issue such a frank document, and attempt to compel its members to refuse runaway U.S. work, indicates that a great deal of commercial work has gone to Canada in the past six months and that ACTRA is being forced to reverse this momentum by educating its membership about the most fundamental aspects of labor strategy.
The ACTRA newsletter said that, "If the U.S. ad industry is successful in defeating SAG and AFTRA, then all other performer unions and their members around the world (including ACTRA) will be next." The economic pressure on individuals and businesses to produce commercials can be strong. A former union booster, Wendy's Dave Thomas has just resigned his SAG membership and returned to commercial production on behalf of his company because he was reported to have been more concerned with his "responsibility" to his employees than to the union. Profits notwithstanding, Wendy's is said to employ 200,000 workers while the actors' unions report membership(s) of 135,000.
American actor Miguel Ferrer told Playbill On-Line that while he was in Canada recently to film a theatrical project he saw evidence of increased commercial production there. "At one point," Ferrer said, "I met this Canadian actress who was excited about all the work that was coming to Canada. She said to me, 'Gee, this is really great, eh?' And I told her, 'Well, no it's not. I know you're happy to work but lots of American actors and production people—including people who have built businesses over successive generations—just can't survive due to the strike—and they're shutting down. I know some of these people. So it may seem like good times here, but the truth is, a lot of people are hurting.'"
In earlier discussions, British Equity concurred with the Canadian assessment that if the American actors' unions cave in with the commercial contract negotiations, there will be a permanent and devastating effect on that aspect of the entertainment industry's economy. Even now, British Equity has no real contract or strength in commercial production, having lost a similar royalty negotiation several years ago.
-- By Murdoch McBride