There is growing anger and opposition within the membership of the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Radio and Television Artists (SAG-AFTRA) to the tentative agreement recently reached by the actors union with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP).

As there should be! The deal, currently being voted on, is a thorough-going fraud, which the union, in conjunction with the media, the Biden White House and rest of the establishment, is now attempting to perpetrate on the 65,000 striking actors.

The agreement is a sellout of actors’ interests and a betrayal even of what SAG-AFTRA claimed was the minimum it would accept in the recent negotiations: decent wage increases, a share of streaming revenue and protection against artificial intelligence (AI). The deal provides for none of those things. In fact, the agreement, if it is accepted, will worsen performers’ living standards, offer them almost zero in streaming residuals, leave them vulnerable to the AI plans of the giant corporations and prepare no one for the major attacks on jobs that are coming.

Pickets at Culver Studios, November 2023

Much of the resistance by rank-and-file actors to the deal has focused on the issue of AI and the ability and clearcut plans of the conglomerates to create digital replicas that will replace thousands of working class actors. As it turns out, the “guardrails” and protections promised by the SAG-AFTRA leadership are non-existent. The companies are merely required to ask for “consent,” but if the consent is not forthcoming, the performer will most likely not be hired.

At a “deal explainer” held by SAG-AFTRA November 13, reported by Rolling Stone, the union’s national executive director and chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland “filtered more than 1,000 questions, with one person asking if actors could be required to give AI consent as a condition of employment.”

“Yes, they can ask you for that,” Crabtree-Ireland replied, in the Zoom call. “If you can’t reach agreement on that, then yes, they can go and hire somebody else instead of you.”

This alone should result in the rejection of the contract and the removal of the struggle from the hands of a leadership that acknowledges its own uselessness from the point of view of actors’ interests.

The contract has even aroused opposition on SAG-AFTRA’s national board. Shaan Sharma, an alternate member of the negotiating committee and a board member, asked Rolling Stone, “Did the negotiating committee honor the commitment they made to the members so that while they were throwing their bodies on the streets walking in circles they knew that they wouldn’t be let down in anything really crucial that motivated them to strike in the first place?”

Sharma makes the obvious point that if “you want to get hired, you have to be ready to consent to be replicated, so there are people who are out there saying that consent at the time of engagement is coercion because they won’t hire you unless you give them those rights.” Of course, it is coercion, with powerful corporations lined up against actors desperate for work.

Sharma shed a little light on the sordid process by which the SAG-AFTRA leadership capitulated to the giant firms on AI and other critical issues. He asserted that the national board meeting that voted on the contract was “the first thing that happened in this entire process that did not happen with integrity.” The meeting was so short, Sharma explained, “that people can’t have any faith that their board members understood what they approved.”

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