Workers Strike Back
A case for full employment—and respecting the work of others
Last Monday, Drew Barrymore decided she’s breaking the WGA strike to restart her talk show again. While claiming to “own this choice,” she opens her post in faux solidarity with writers, claiming that she walked away from awards shows at the beginning of the strike—then admits her show wrapped before it began, so it didn’t actually affect her schedule.
But now it has, apparently, and so she wants to be in front of the camera again. She closes by writing:
We have navigated difficult times since we first came on air. And so I take a step forward to start season 4 once again with an astute humility.
Disingenuous behavior always cosplays humility. At least Barrymore (hopefully) learned a lesson from writers when she was dropped as the host of this year’s National Book Awards. She recently announced that she was pausing her show until the writer’s strike concludes.
Pressure works, sometimes.
Never going to happen with Bill Maher, however, who announced he’s breaking the strike as well. His post was equally long-winded, almost hinting at an attempt at humility: “the show I will be doing without my writers will not be as good as our normal show, full stop.” Then words finish escaping his mouth: this stripped-down show “will not disappoint.”
Along the way to this overconfident closure, Maher talks about loving his writers, which is a peculiar claim given that he recently said they’re not “owed a living” by choosing that craft. His broader point: Hollywood is a tough industry. True, but also exactly what this strike is about: the diminishing career prospects for writers trying to earn a living.
Not apparent to millionaires with mindsets like: “Hey, we know this line of work sucks, and guess what? We’re going to make it suck more, so just be grateful for the table scraps we allow you to have!”
That’s a proper framework for understanding Disney CEO Bob Iger (net worth: $350 million), whose company posted an open PR position (pay: $337,920) to do damage control after the multi-millionaire said the writers were being “unrealistic.”
The same week, one day prior to the interview, Disney announced that [Iger’s] contract was being extended to 2026, raising his target annual compensation to $31 million. The eye-popping sum drew cynical comparisons to the statistic that only 14 percent of actors represented by the SAG-AFTRA guild earn the minimum $26,470 necessary to qualify for health insurance, per the union’s chief economist.
That 14% figure is rough, but I agree that Hollywood really is a tough industry. All creative pursuits are. Part of the reason I re-monetized this Substack is because it remains challenging to earn a living from this discipline, even after 30 years in journalism. But there’s a difference between stating that outright—it’s hard and a hustle but we’ll try our best—and then taking the next leap, as Maher did, to “no writer deserves a living wage.” That mindset allows industries—specifically, industry executives—to exploit workers. The Motown model repeated ad nauseam: hire a small group of session players to perform on all the records and tours for one low wage instead of employing an appropriate number of musicians. And that’s basically what Hollywood—among many others—is doing to its workers.
Despite Maher’s protestations, the reason workers across industries are striking isn’t due to not wanting to work. It’s because we all want to be paid fairly for the work we do.