Tag Archives: writer’s strike

Chris Lehane’s Anti-Worker Legacy

Here is the problem with Chris Lehane going to work for the studios for me.  Working for Democrats and Democratic causes means we are working to improve the lives of the many not the few.  Going to work for these massive media conglomerates is the opposite.  We are for people not profits.  Unfortunately Chris Lehane has done this before and rather likes working for corporations.  The huge piece of research on the Chris Lehane blog starts off with this quote:

“I like dealing with CEOs. I like taking strategies and tactics we used in the White House and applying them to the corporate world.”

– Chris Lehane quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle, May 19, 2002

Chris Lehane decided that he was going to work for the huge movie studios and television companies and work to bust the union during a strike.  You just don’t do that as a Democratic operative.  It is incompatible with Democratic values and impossible to justify.  The studios were the ones who walked away from the negotiating table.  Look, there is no way I and others would not be this riled up about a Democratic operative simply taking a gig working for any old corporation.  It is the union busting that is an enormous problem.  Undermining solidarity during a strike is the cardinal sin.

Now under Lehane’s direction, the studios are attempting to divide the WGA membership and they are not being subtle about it.  How else to describe the counters they have up on the newly redesigned AMPTP site.  I first spotted them on a LAT banner ad.  If you notice, the second banner is about the IATSE, whose leadership has not been supportive of the writers.  They are modeled after the ones on the United Hollywood blog.

(Notice that the TNS survey they are crowing about on the top of the website is a “internet” survey and has absolutely no statistical value.)

This is part of a pattern of behavior from Chris Lehane, which Jane picked up on at Fire Dog Lake, but I want to pick up on the section titled: Lehane and the Bay Bridge Welders.  It illustrates quite well Lehane’s disregard of workers.  This time it was not over being paid a fair wage, but over the worker’s basic safety.

In 2004 welders working on the new span of the Bay Bridge filed a Cal/OSHA claim against KFM, the consortium contracted to build the span. 48 workers were sick with respiratory problems that they believed were caused by exposure to dangerous levels of manganese.

The Cal/OSHA investigation found that KFM knew about the overexposure, but didn’t do anything about it.  Manganese is pretty terrible stuff and overexposure can lead to a neurological disorder.

The workers also claimed that not only had the welds made them sick, but that they were faulty and threatened the structural integrity of a bridge designed to withstand a major earthquake. KFM denied any problem existed – and fired the sick workers who complained. KFM claimed an excellent safety record on the bridge project, but only accomplished it by punishing injured workers and rewarding those who did not report injuries. But to ensure that they could fight off the sick workers’ claims, who did they turn to? Chris Lehane. Lehane’s job was to defend KFM’s record in the media and prevent the sick workers from receiving the justice they were owed.

The media had been the key player in the matter all along. The sick workers had filed Cal/OSHA claims in early 2004, but chronic understaffing and underfunding caused the claims to be ignored, until the workers got the Oakland Tribune interested in the story. With the Tribune’s reporting Cal/OSHA finally got involved, and KFM realized that to keep the safety concerns quiet and to avoid paying the sick workers, they needed someone to keep the media away from the truth. Lehane was their man.

So what did Chris Lehane do?

Lehane’s strategy was to play up FBI investigations that could not conclusively prove anything was wrong with the welds or the workers. When the FBI found that they could not get at the actual welds – by then encased in concrete – nor prove criminal intent, they had to drop the probe. Lehane celebrated this as proof that the welds were good, telling the San Francisco Chronicle that there was no reason for any further investigation and the NY Times that “KFM always puts the safety of its workers and the public first,” refusing to acknowledge the sick workers whose own bodies were proof that KFM was dangerous.

The sick workers’ case is now pending trial in Oakland, but there has been virtually no media coverage of their case since 2005. Lehane successfully helped cover up KFM’s responsibility for the sick workers and deflected media attention from one of the most egregious acts of corporate malfeasance in California this century. In fighting against justice for the Bay Bridge workers, Lehane proved that he has no principles whatsoever, no interest in helping workers even when they are literally sick.

Just disgusting tactics.  Was this something he learned at the White House?  One would hope not.  

This anti-worker pattern of behavior should mean that Chris Lehane never gets another contract from a labor union.  I don’t care how good the man is at getting media coverage.  There are just somethings you should not do.  Going to work for a company to work on busting a union in the middle of a strike is one.  Going to work for a company to cover up the fact that they injured their workers is another.

Chris Lehane: Union Buster to the Stars

Guess who just hired Chris Lehane, the former Gore aide and consultant on the official “Fair Election Reform” (the Stephen Bing funded push against the Dirty Tricks Initiative)?  Well, if you guessed the Film and TV Producers, you’re right:

Seeking to shore up its flagging public image, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers has turned to veteran political advisors from both sides of the aisle to guide its public relations battle with Hollywood’s striking writers.

The alliance announced today that it had retained Mark Fabiani and Chris Lehane, who have served as senior aides and advisors to President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore and other Democrats across the country. The group also said it hired Steve Schmidt, a close advisor to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger who served as his campaign manager in 2006. (LA Times 12.05.07)

Apparently some Democratic consultants are willing to sell their services to the highest bidder regardless of the values wrapped up in those decisions. Fun times to be a Democratic consultant, huh?

Shock Doctrine and Union Busting

As you may have noticed from recent posts, I’m a big fan of Naomi Klein’s new book The Shock Doctrine. It’s one of the best books published this decade, and provides perhaps the best overview of the last 30 years yet offered. Her argument is essentially this:

The shock doctrine, like all doctrines, is a philosophy of power. It’s a philosophy about how to achieve your political and economic goals. And this is a philosophy that holds that the best way, the best time, to push through radical free-market ideas is in the aftermath of a major shock. Now, that shock could be an economic meltdown. It could be a natural disaster. It could be a war. But the idea, as you just saw in the film, is that these crises, these disasters, these shocks soften up whole societies. They discombobulate them. People lose their bearings. And a window opens up, just like the window in the interrogation chamber. And in that window, you can push through what economists call “economic shock therapy.”

She also links this to torture – quoting from CIA interrogation manuals that explain how the application of shock can open a window in which the subject is weakened and suggestible, a window that torturers or free market economists can use to push through a radical agenda that might otherwise be resisted. This works on individuals, societies…and labor unions.

It’s in this context that two recent posts from the United Hollywood blog should be understood. In it, they explain the basics of management, union-busting strategy – that a successful anti-union strategy relies on precisely these tactics of terror, disorientation, and shock to destroy worker solidarity. That the writers appear to understand this could give them a powerful advantage in their ongoing strike, and these insights not only suggest how unions can win, but how the shock doctrine and union busting are inextricably tied together.

Details over the flip…

First is a post excerpting an e-mail from Tim Lea regarding AMPTP strategy:

The AMPTP strategy…is to gain control over ‘New Media’ by breaking the unions. First us, then the rest. Then the Internet will be a non-union town.

In his book Confessions of a Union Buster, Martin Jay Levitt details the techniques he learned in his many years attacking unions. A key element is the demoralization of the union members during any industrial action against the company. Taking away people’s hopes, their aspirations for a quick resolution to any labor dispute – that was Levitt’s job. “If you can, make the union fight drag on long enough, workers…lose faith, lose interest, lose hope.”

According to Robert Muehlenkamp, an SEIU Local 1199 organizer at Harper Grace hospital in the 70’s, where Levitt was hired to consult management:

“Union busters wield great power through a program of terror and manipulation – people don’t, can’t possibly know what’s going on and who’s telling the truth…. The first time this happens to regular people, they’re terrified.”

And terror is the goal. The union buster hopes to control employees by employing terror.

This is, of course, precisely the situation we find ourselves in today. We are the example that is being used to intimidate the other unions. The studios want the actors, the directors, the Teamsters, IATSE, all to look at our struggle and see us lose. See us fractured and divided. With the hope that they will be frightened by what they see, and accept whatever deal the studios offer.

The emphasis is mine, and it reminds me EXACTLY of what Naomi Klein is describing in the shock doctrine. Terror and manipulation…”the first time this happens to regular people, they’re terrified” – that is the exact phenomenon that Klein believes has been repeatedly employed over the last 30 years to push through radical neoliberal economic policies. Whether it was Pinochet’s coup against Allende, the September 11 attacks in the US, the collapse of the Soviet Union, or Hurricane Katrina, the result is the same – societies are terrorized because they are experiencing something alien, frightening, something they never expected they’d face.

WGA West Board of Directors member Tom Schulman provides details about how union busters employ the shock doctrine in negotiations in a post, also from yesterday, in which he took copious notes from a chief negotiator for management in another sector of the entertainment industry:


* Lower the expectations of the other side, divide and conquer.

* Raise and lower the expectations of the other side, divide and conquer.

* Do everything possible to destroy the credibility of the other side’s leadership, divide and conquer.

* Use confidants and back channels to go over the heads of the stronger leaders to the softer targets. Divide and conquer.

* When you figure out the other side’s bottom line, offer a fraction. It’s surprising how many times that stands.

Sound familiar? If you examine the recent “leaks,” comments, and press releases from the other side, you’ll realize this is exactly the strategy the Companies are employing against us today. And why not? It’s worked for them for the last 20 years! They are putting us on an emotional roller coaster by raising and lowering our expectations, attacking our leaders, trying to pit the town against us, refusing to move on the issues that matter to us, bragging about their generosity when the opposite is true, fear mongering and claiming we’re going to ruin this industry – hoping we’ll splinter, lose faith in and attack each other, negotiate against ourselves, and cave.

Again the emphasis is mine, and hopefully you can see what I saw – a link to the “terror and manipulation” described above. These negotiating tactics are primarily designed to shock the rank and file, and the coaliton that supports the strikers. The act of rapidly raised and dashed expectations, of dramatically dividing workers and coalition partners, are all aimed at producing a moment of shock that will allow management to gain the upper hand and conclude negotiations on favorable terms – or to break the union entirely.

Schulman went on to write:

But this time, in every way possible, we must let them know we’re on to them and their strategy won’t work. We understand their game, our solidarity and resolve are greater than ever, and we’re going to stay strong – and reasonable – until we get a fair deal.

And sure enough, soon after Schulman’s post, Carlton Cuse – showrunner for Lostcame along to put to bed rumors that he was going to break solidarity, instead announcing he was ceasing any and all work on his show to stand in unity with the writers.

The key to beating the shock doctrine is to understand what is coming, to not let a disorienting event damage your unity and defense of your values, and to understand that the shock always wears off. As long as the writers do those things, they will have that much better a chance at victory in what will still be a long and difficult struggle – and perhaps point the way forward for the rest of us.