“Your Fight Is Our Fight”: John Leguizamo, Busy Philipps, Tony Kushner and Unions Show Solidarity With WGA
John Leguizamo, Busy Philipps, Tony Kushner, Neil Gaiman, Al Franken and Wanda Sykes were among those who took to the stage during WGA East’s Rally at 30 Rockefeller Center on Tuesday, appearing alongside union leaders from SAG-AFTRA, IATSE, Actor’s Equity and more pledging that “all of labor stands behind the writers.”
Cynthia Nixon, Ilana Glazer, Warren Leight and labor leaders Rebecca Damon from SAG-AFTRA, Kate Shindle of Actors Equity and Matt Loeb of IATSE were also among those who spoke, with Mark Ruffalo and Susan Sarandon making crowd appearances.
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Both of those actors’ messages of solidarity were more prominently shared on social media as Ruffalo encouraged SAG members to vote yes on the strike authorization and stand in solidarity with the WGA if they are concerned about “AI protections, and the future of television and entertainment.” Sarandon, meanwhile, tweeted, “NYC is a Union town. Stronger Together!!!” alongside of video of the rally.
While far from an official themed picket day, that message of solidarity emerged repeatedly during the three-hour event, which saw overflow on both sides of W. 49th Street outside the picket’s designated barricades.
“I was there in 2007,” WGA East president Michael Winship said during his opening remarks. “I had just become president then when we had that strike — a strike we won. But I have to tell you that the breadth of support from our other unions, our union colleagues, and from other Americans has just been colossal.”
Among one of the first to speak, Leguizamo — member of SAG-AFTRA and WGA East — acknowledged the presence of multiple unions on the picket line. “As I look around here, I see every union here. SAG-AFTRA, IATSE, Teamsters — we’re all brothers and sisters, all here because we’re invested in this fight,” he said.
In his speech, he also bemoaned the studios’ creation of mini-rooms, which he said hurt writers financially, but also shut out new and diverse talent. “We cannot afford to push our demands off until the next negotiations, nor can we revisit this threat to diversity when it’s too damn late,” he said. “We need to act now.”
Harold & Kumar star Kal Penn added that many of the studios like to publicly promote diversity and inclusion, but that their proposals in the contract negotiations suggest otherwise. “Their actions have shown the world that perhaps they don’t actually value equity. Their marketing executives just like to tweet about it,” Penn said.
When comedian and actress Wanda Sykes spoke to the crowd during the back half of the rally, she pointed out how the day’s picket illustrated the diverse industry the new contract would protect. “I’m so proud to see so many faces,” Sykes said. “These faces are a lot different than they were in 2007, because of how rooms have changed. I see so many women, young women, I see so many brown faces. I see my Asian brothers and sisters out here. It’s beautiful.”
Gaiman used his time to share an anecdote about a young writer who initially begrudged the WGA’s strike vote before explaining exactly how the union was working to protect them against the very issues they were complaining about. “Everything we’re about right now is about the future. This is a strike, and it’s so heartening to see SAG-AFTRA. It’s so heartening to see IATSE. It’s so heartening to see all of you here because all of you know that this is about your futures, too,” he said.
Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav found himself once again the subject of the picket line’s ire thanks to Philipps, who — after crowdsourcing jokes from late night writers for Stephen Colbert and Seth Meyers, as well as Ike Barinholtz, Paula Pell, Simran Baidwan, Abdi Nazemian and Marc Silverstein — delivered a series of jabs about the studio executive who was recently booed at the Boston University Graduation.
“Zaslav sucks so bad he made a bunch of shouting 20-somethings from Boston sound sensible,” Philipps said. At another point, she quipped, “Zaslav should know that the Writers Guild is serious because if writers wanted to spend months and months only to have nothing to show for it then they’d have sold a series to Warner Bros. Discovery.”
The Girls5eva star was also among those calling for solidarity between unions. “As a SAG member, it is so important that we show solidarity with the writers by walking the picket lines.”
However, the day’s most fiery entertainment industry speech came from Tony Kushner, the Angels in America playwright and The Fabelmans screenwriter, who has been an outspoken supporter of the WGA and also petitioned the union to let the Tony Awards go forward, according to The New York Times.
Kushner directed his speech to the AMPTP rather than the writers, saying that the trade association “confuses power with morality, like everyone who’s ever been on the wrong side of history.”
“When the ersatz business geniuses of the AMPTP tell us that our industry can’t survive unless it exploits its workers and picks their pockets and treats its workers like we’re disposable and replaceable, and you hope eventually entirely unneeded, we know that our industry has been killed, and we know who is killing it. And here’s a hint, AMPTP, it isn’t us,” Kushner said.
“Shamelessness has a short shelf life and the Writers Guild of America is here to tell you the expiration date on your shameless engorging has finally arrived,” he continued.
While the event’s big names delivered sharp criticism of the AMPTP and showed solidarity with the WGA and its allies, it was perhaps the diversity of Tuesday’s union presence — and the implications of a growing movement beyond Hollywood labor backing the Writers Guild — that sent the loudest message.
That writers strike support came from members both within and outside the entertainment industry, with IATSE president Loeb sharing that “the entertainment community unions are here in support of what is right.”
“You may be the first in a line of important fights to come and it is crucial that you win this fight,” he added. “We might not see you every day where we work on the set, but we see you today, and you see us today. We work for the same employers, and we fight the same battles every time we sit down to bargain. So we have to lock arms.”
Actor’s Equity president Shindle encouraged not only solidarity between unions, but support for the Entertainment Community Fund. Meanwhile, Damon, the executive director, New York Local, Labor Policy and International Affairs for SAG-AFTRA, championed the union’s solidarity strike vote and the impact of the pandemic on Hollywood’s labor movement. “The unions in the film and television industries have always had each other’s back, but through this pandemic, we deepened that partnership and a strength was forged unlike this industry has ever seen,” she said.
Other unions that had representation on the line include the Producer’s Guild of America; the American Federation of Musicians; MSNBC Union; the Teamsters; the American Federation of Teachers; SEIU; Communications Workers of America; Construction and General Building Laborers’ Local 79; Civil Service Employees Association Local 1000; as well as various AFL-CIO groups.
“Whether we’re fighting for the rights of writers, teachers, nurses, retail workers, warehouse workers or construction workers — we are all in this together,” Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, said. “Today we say to Hollywood, all of labor stands behind the writers.”
The American Federation of Musicians Tino Gagliardi spoke specifically to where he said the writers and musicians are “aligned”: the rise of AI.
“The American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada will go against the Alliance in November, and I’m going to tell you right now that we’re going to be looking for exactly the same kind of gains that you are looking at right now,” he continued. “They are unalienable rights that you deserve and that you need to get, and I want you to know right now that the AFM is solidly behind you.”
In one of the rally’s most rousing speeches, New York State AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento shared what he called “probably the most simple message” of the day.
“The organized labor movement in this state — from upstate and downstate, from Buffalo to Brooklyn to Long Island — your fight is our fight,” he said. “Dignity is our fight. Your fight for respect is the labor movement’s fight. Your fight for justice is the AFL-CIO fight. And your fight for contract fair wages and benefits and conditions of employment is everybody’s fight.”
“If you think we’re going to walk away from the Writers Guild and anybody else who’s dealing with these issues,” New York City Central Labor Council leader Vinnie Alvarez said, “you’ve got another thing coming.”
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