Facebook Instagram Twitter YouTube

IATSE Members Vote No, Contract Passes Anyway

By using undemocratic voting measures, public pressure, and delaying tactics, the IATSE bureaucracy overrode the wishes of the membership to ram through a terrible contract. This is a betrayal of Halyna Hutchins, and all the IATSE members who voted to strike and who are demanding safe working conditions.

Enid Brain

November 16, 2021
Facebook Twitter Share

The ultra-controversial International Association of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) tentative agreement has been ratified — but only because IATSE’s bureaucracy mandated a completely undemocratic  system for the vote. This system of voting — which assigns proportional “delegates” to each local in what is essentially an electoral college-like system — resulted in a split between the official delegate vote (58 percent voted yes to the basic agreement and 42 percent voted no) and the popular vote (where 49.6 percent of the membership voted yes and 50.4 percent voted no). In other words, the basic agreement (the core part of the new deal) was ratified by the union leadership despite the fact that a majority of members voted no. The other part of the deal, the area standards agreement, narrowly passed both the delegate and popular votes.

This is a betrayal of the wishes of rank-and-file IATSE members, who just weeks ago voted overwhelmingly to authorize what would have been the first strike in the union’s history. The rank-and-file were fed up then and they’re still fed up. Fed up with poor working conditions, long hours, low pay, and diminishing benefits — all things that have been worsening with each successive contract. They were ready to strike, a strike that would have brought  the entertainment industry to a grinding halt and potentially rewritten the way it operates. It also would have been  the biggest strike since the recent uptick in labor struggle began in September.

But the IATSE leadership has tossed all of that power and all of that militant energy aside in order to cut a deal with the bosses that doesn’t address any of the most important demands of workers. The new agreement does not reduce the number of work hours, the 3 percent pay raise is less than the rate of inflation, and there are no increases in streaming residuals — essentially profit sharing for streaming shows that go to fund IATSE pensions and health plans. To call this contract insufficient is an understatement. It will only continue the hyper-exploitation of IATSE workers. And the IATSE leadership agreed to it and then put their thumb on the scale to make sure it passed.

Adding a tragic element to all of this is the death of Halyna Hutchins, an IATSE member who was killed when a prop gun misfired on set last month. Hutchins’s death came in the midst of the debate around the TA and, for many, represented the stakes of what was being fought for. Hutchins died because of the unsafe conditions in her workplace, conditions that continue to go unaddressed. And yet  the IATSE leadership never took up Hutchins as a figurehead of the struggle, essentially buying into the bosses’ narrative that the problem was the presence of firearms in general on set, not that, to save money, the producers had replaced union workers with untrained workers who didn’t properly follow safety procedures. The IATSE leadership issued their statement of grief and then never brought her up again. This is an insult to Hutchins, her co-workers, and her union. She deserved a safe workplace and her union leaders refused to fight for it.

During the height of the debate over the TA, IATSE president Matt Loeb’s name trended on Twitter, with many demanding his resignation. Without question, Loeb must resign immediately, as he doesn’t represent the interest of the workers. He should be replaced by a vote from the rank and file, not the appointment process that put Loeb there in the first place. Loeb, like the other mis-leaders of the labor movement, is highly paid and has much more in common with the bosses than he does the rank and file. Loeb, and other bureaucrats like him, consistently act to limit, abort, and betray potential militant action and subvert rank-and-file democracy. Rather than being interested in building actual working-class power, union leaders are more interested in cutting deals with the bosses and supporting the Democratic Party. From IATSE to John Deere, rank-and-file union workers need to confront these leaders in order to rebuild a fighting labor movement. 

This doesn’t mean that workers should abandon unions; after all, there are few organizations that can give the working class as much organized power. . But workers must fight to retake their unions from the bureaucrats who make hundreds of thousands a year and trade away worker protections in back-room deals. As long as the mis-leaders of the labor movement continue to lead un-opposed, the labor movement will always be limited in what it is able to accomplish. 

It is also essential that workers fight for greater rank-and-file democracy. These anti-democratic electoral college systems only serve to make it easy for the labor leadership to force through bad deals. What is needed instead is direct votes from the workers — where every worker gets a vote — and assemblies where workers can come and openly debate and discuss the contracts presented to them. In addition, the leaders of the labor movement and the negotiating committees must be recallable by the membership, which will hold them accountable in situations like this where they act against the best interests of the rank and file. 

IATSE workers should take heart, however. We have seen what they can do when they are organized. They overwhelmingly agreed to strike and were ready to shut down the industry. This power does not go away — in fact, the labor power that IATSE workers possess in Hollywood is almost unprecedented or unparalleled in the industry, and they should use it. 

The mis-leaders, as they always do, will wring their hands and say that the workers are asking for too much. But we have seen whose side the labor bureaucracy is on, and it’s not the side of the workers. The IATSE leadership betrayed their members, in open daylight, and then relied upon an undemocratic voting process to push through a terrible contract. This should never be forgotten. The workers of IATSE are powerful and they scare their bosses and their mis-leaders. 

Facebook Twitter Share

Enid Brain

Enid is a trans activist, artist, and service industry worker in New York City. Visit her on Twitter at @enidbrain.

Labor Movement

President Biden giving a speech on Friday, September 15, about the UAW strike. A UAW sign in the background.

Joe Biden Is Afraid of the UAW Strike. That’s a Good Thing.

A few days ago, Biden called on the bosses of the Big Three automakers to give concessions to the striking UAW workers. It’s because he’s scared of the UAW’s power.

Enid Brain

September 20, 2023

To Win, the UAW Strike Must Be Organized from Below

The strike at the Big Three has put the working class at the center of national politics. The autoworkers’ demands are bold and touch on issues of growing exploitation across the country. To win big, the strike must be organized from below.

Tristan Taylor

September 18, 2023

UAW: The Contract Fight of Their Lives 

With ambitious demands on the table and billions of dollars on the line for the Big Three, the UAW contract struggle is shaping up to be one of the most important and unprecedented labor actions in years.

Tristan Taylor

September 14, 2023

The UAW Is Right: All Workers Deserve a Shorter Work Week AND Higher Wages

The current contract struggle at The Big Three and increasing automation in the auto industry raise an important question: How can we use technology to benefit the working class rather than feed the profits of the bosses? 

Luigi Morris

September 14, 2023


China’s Rise, ‘Diminished Dependency,’ and Imperialism in Times of World Disorder

In this broad-ranging interview, originally published in LINKS, Trotskyist Fraction member Esteban Mercatante discusses how recent global shifts in processes of capital accumulation have contributed to China’s rise, the new (and old) mechanisms big powers use to plunder the Global South, and its implications for anti-imperialist and working-class struggles today.

Esteban Mercatante

September 22, 2023
Migrants from Northern Africa sit in lines on the Italian island of Lampedusa.

Crisis in Lampedusa: Down with Fortress Europe, Open the Borders!

The way out of the immigration crisis is through the struggle against imperialism. This is a declaration from the European organizations of the Trotskyist Fraction - Fourth International.

NYC Mayor Eric Adams stands at a podium.

The Housing Crisis and Migrant Crisis Are Crises of Capitalism

As thousands of people come to the U.S. seeking shelter, politicians around the country are claiming that housing in the U.S. is already in crisis and that there is no room for them. Both the “migrant crisis” and “housing crisis” are crises created and exacerbated by capitalism.

Mike Pappas

September 20, 2023

Germany Is Threatening to Deport Palestinian Refugees for Their Activism

#StandWithZaid: Zaid Abdulnasser, the coordinator of the Palestine solidarity network Samidoun Germany, is a Palestinian refugee from Syria. The German are threatening to revoke his residence permit due to his political activism.

Tom Krüger

September 18, 2023