Originally published in The Guardian on July 20, 2023

When workers are united, and able to collectively bargain, they can win good outcomes

The Screen Actor’s Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists strike launched last week against Hollywood studios has brought large attention because of the celebrities involved. But as Chief Economist, Greg Jericho, notes in his Guardian Australia column, there are lessons for Australian workers as well.

For the past 40 years there have been consistent efforts in Australia and other English speaking countries to reduce to power and role of unions in industrial relations. And while we are often told that there are reasons such as a need for greater flexibility to ensure increased productivity, the reality is there has been no evidence that any of the changes to IR laws have produced anything like the productivity that was promised.

The past decade has seen as much “flexibility” and reduced power for unions as any business group could (and did) desire, and yet productivity levels have plummeted.

The problem, as the SAG-AFTRA strike makes clear, the reason governments and business groups have agitated against unions and the ability to conduct industrial action is not because of concerns about productivity, but because unions garner better wages for their members and faster wage growth.

The past decade shows that as the number of days lost to industrial action have fallen, so too has wage growth.

The Hollywood strike might notionally be about payment for film and productions on streaming services and concerns about AI, but as SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher made clear, it is truly about workers demanding respect, and to be honoured for their contribution.

Australian workers should learn from the strike and see that unity and union membership delivers benefits – and we know this is true, because employers will do anything they can to prevents it happening.

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