ARC's 1st Law: As a "progressive" online discussion grows longer, the probability of a nefarious reference to Karl Rove approaches one

Friday, April 04, 2008

The Unions Strike Back

There are two stories in today's WSJ regarding unions. First, this hilarious article about how a union in India for film industry extras (e.g. the guys walking down a street in a film) aren't quick enough to adjust to their changing world:


Modern Times: India Struggles To Cast Extras
Directors Seek ActorsWho Look Up-to-Date; Oversupply of Villagers

April 4, 2008; Page A1

MUMBAI -- As India rapidly modernizes, the country's filmmakers are struggling to find movie extras who look the part.

The problem is that the unions that supply background actors to movie-makers haven't kept up with the times. They have fiercely restricted admission: Becoming a "junior artist," as extras are known, is often hereditary. As a result, the labor pool has remained homogenous and small at around 2,000 unionized extras in total.
Ahh, what's the first mission of a union? To improve the professionalism of the members? To meet the requirements of their customer (aka business)? No, it's to protect its members and keep their wages artificially high. (I use the term artificially because if they're not focusing on the first two, their wages are by definition artificial.)
Most of these actors are relatively poor. Directors have generally used them to play roles like rickshaw drivers, shopkeepers with bushy moustaches and passersby in a village bazaar. But now, movies are increasingly shot in Western-style shopping malls and modern office towers, and directors need extras who fit the scene.

"If I'm shooting in a nightclub, I wouldn't want someone who could pass for a vegetable vendor," says Bharat Rawail, an assistant director at Yash Raj Films, one of India's biggest production houses.

Entrepreneurs like Hemanshu Dadbhawala have rushed to fill the gap. The stocky 29-year-old works with directors to provide specialized actors the unions don't have in their ranks. He carries CDs loaded with photos of people he says look "modern." They range from college-educated twentysomethings in Western-style clothes, to people who could pass as fashion models.

As "Bollywood" movies become more sophisticated, directors are also increasingly striving to get the details just right with their character actors. Mr. Dadbhawala says he can help with that, too: He offers numerous fire-eaters, bodybuilders, cross-dressers and midgets.

"If a director needs a really, really fat person, they can't get it from the union," Mr. Dadbhawala says, pulling out a photo of three extremely large men, all his clients. "Now, these people are really huge."

Going Global

Indian directors say they need to be picky about extras as they try to go global and appeal to the United Kingdom and the U.S. markets, where higher production values are expected. "You can't keep using the same faces every time," says Sudhir Mishra, director of the recently released "Khoya Khoya Chand" (Lost Moon), a love story set in the 1950s. Mr. Mishra bypassed the union to hire actors he felt could more authentically portray prostitutes, bouncers and pimps in a brothel scene.
Sensible enough... need to make sure that you can "keep it real" when making a film, so it's important that your nightclub not be filled with people who look like they might have actually stepped foot into one.

But, of course, this challenges the hereditary tradition of the extras union... and their desire to limit the number of members.
Directors also try to boost the international appeal of their films by using foreign extras, often European or American vacationers rounded up at Mumbai tourist spots -- a tactic that is particularly galling to unionized extras. Film producers "give excuses, like 'We're shooting in a pub, so we want to have some foreigners there,'" says Firoz Khan, a 25-year-old member of the Junior Artistes Association, the union for male extras. "It's just excuses."

Fighting Back

Mr. Khan earns about $250 a month, a decent wage in a country where three-quarters of the population live on less than $2 a day [$60/month]. In one recent role, he portrayed a soldier in "Jodhaa Akbar," a 16th-century period drama now showing in the U.S.
Did I say something previously about keeping artificially high wages? 4x the standard wage in India for being in the background of a film - How 'bout them apples?
The unions, true to this country's strong socialist roots, are fighting back. They're working to persuade local police and government officials that foreign extras -- many of whom are simply vacationers looking to immerse themselves in Bollywood glitz for an afternoon -- could pose grave security risks on film sets because they don't have government work permits.

Huh? security risks? from foreigners standing in the background of a movie frame?


Why is it that the protectionist and socialist (fascist????) tendencies are always to declare that any economic act with which you don't agree to be a national security risk? Why is it always the last refuge, no matter how ridiculous the link?
"If these people do anything wrong, how will we track them? Who will be responsible?" said Dharmesh Tiwari, president of the Federation of Western India Cine Employees, the umbrella organization that oversees the Junior Artistes Association as well as the women's union, Mahila Kalakar Sangh, or Women Artists Association.
do anything wrong? huh?

In general, the unions require movie-makers to seek permission before using nonunion extras. The unions sometimes conduct surprise on-set inspections to ensure compliance. "They get really upset," says Mr. Mishra, the "Khoya Khoya Chand" director.

Tensions like these were on display recently on the set of "Mumbai Chaka Chak," which translates loosely as "Mumbai Spic and Span" and is a romantic comedy about street sweepers. The producers had hired a few dozen nonunion actors, including some real-life street sweepers for authenticity.

The Junior Artistes Association wasn't happy about that. So one afternoon recently, a few union members initiated a strike on the set. First the lights went dim, a person who witnessed the situation says. Then a heavy-set union inspector arrived.

Studio executives sprang into action, rolling out tea and snacks for the inspector in an effort to persuade him that the nonunion workers weren't displacing union hires. It took an hour and a half for shooting to resume, the witness recalls.
No doubt, it took an hour and a half for the appropriate bribes... ahem ... union contributions to be collected and provided to the heavy.
Mr. Tiwari, the union boss, says he wasn't aware of that incident. However, he says, "noncooperation" by unionized actors is appropriate when nonunion actors are used without permission.

At the headquarters of the Junior Artistes Association, a concrete building in a slum area of the city, the changes are being felt by some actors more than others. On a recent afternoon, a dozen extras waited inside for their next assignment, sprawled on a row of blue metal benches. One man napped next to a goat.
Just laughable... and predictable... and sad.

Why do I mention this story (other than the inherent hilarity it provides)?

Well, this OpEd of the WSJ says that Big Labor in the US is banking on a trifecta in this years political season - The White House, House, and a filibuster-proof Senate all on board with Labor's agenda.

The Union Agenda
April 4, 2008

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama visited the House of Labor this week, and Labor can't wait to invite one back. Which one? Who cares.
"This is an all-in bet for them in 2008," says Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Committee, a group that fights down in the trenches against coercive union power. "As market cycles go, they're in their peak, we're in our trough, and they're looking for a clear two-year run" in an all-Democrat Washington.

How bad does Big Labor want this? Consider history. George W. Bush has been eight years of anticorruption probes and more union financial disclosure. Bill Clinton's tenure was defined by an antiunion GOP majority, with Nafta as a bitter pill. George H.W. Bush codified the Beck decision, allowing workers to withhold political dues. Ronald Reagan broke the air traffic controllers union. Even Jimmy Carter was tightfisted with gifts. The unions' last political heyday arguably ended with the Landrum-Griffin Act of 1959, which regulated internal union affairs.

How bad does Big Labor want this? Consider the desperation. A global economy has meant higher-paying, more flexible jobs, and a U.S. workforce that sees little value in unions. Union membership has been in a free-fall for years, with private-sector membership now at just 7.4% of the labor force. Fights over how to stop this bleeding have fractured the movement. Labor leaders worry that if they don't reverse the trend soon, they'll be out of a job.

This is their shot. Unions are confident the House will be Democratic and pliant. By holding off on big endorsements, they've forced both Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama to pander to their demands, creating some of the most pro-union presidential candidates in recent history. In the Senate, labor bosses see a chance to add three to seven seats, enough, when combined with wobbly Republicans, to do away with filibusters. They're already out spending in New Hampshire, Minnesota, Colorado, New Mexico, Virginia, Alaska and Maine.
How bad does Big Labor want this? Consider what it will get if that money pays off. Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama have already pledged a rewrite of Nafta and an end to more trade deals. Both promise to throw government money at new union-only jobs, to boost unemployment insurance, to penalize companies that hire overseas, and to take a run at "universal" health care.

To this, unions will add passage of "card check," which would outlaw secret ballots in union organizing elections. Alongside will be legislation to make union officials the exclusive bargaining agents of most police, fire and rescue personnel. Then there's the biggie – so big that most officials don't talk about it publicly. Tucked into the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act is a provision called 14(b), which allows for "right to work" states. Big Labor last took a run at deleting this section, and forcing more unionization, in the Johnson administration. With a filibuster-proof Senate, they'd have a far better shot.

Unions want a Department of Labor that will sit on corruption cases, water down financial disclosure rules, and turn a blind eye to the use of pension funds to influence boardroom decisions. The National Labor Relations Board has three vacancies, which Senate Democrats will refuse to fill this year. Big Labor's own slate would include people favorable to proposals to allow "mini-unions" within corporate workplaces, or to rework job definitions to bring more positions under the union umbrella.

The biggest obstacle to all this would normally be the business community. But with Democrats strongly positioned to win, companies are reluctant to upset the political masters. The corporate world's list of political problems has also grown so large – trade, paid leave, healthcare, environmental issues – that it has barely been able to focus on the union threat.
As if I wasn't already in despair over the implications of a Hillary or Obama presidency; the thought of a return to Big Labor heavies without oversight on their corruption, more regulations that only make the US less competitive for business (domestic and foreign), and all wrapped up in a "workers paradise" message will only make me puke.

The terrible Hoover/FDR policies which deepened and then extended the Great Depression may be nothing compared to the damage that the yahoos could do to our economy and freedom.

Your Co-Conspirator,
ARC: St Wendeler