Abstract: Hollywood Unions is a unique collection that tells the stories of the unions and guilds that have organized motion picture and television labor: the DGA, IATSE, SAG-AFTRA, and WGA. The Hollywood unions represent a wide swath of the workers making media: from directors and stars to grips and make-up artists. People today know some of these organizations from their glitzy annual awards celebrations, but the unions’ actual importance is in bargaining with the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) on behalf of 331,000 workers in the motion picture and television industry. The history of these unions has contributed to making media work sustainable in the long-term and helped shape the conditions and production cultures of Hollywood.
Unions are not neutral institutions, but rather have long histories of jurisdictional battles, competitions with rival unions, and industry-altering strikes. They have supported the industry’s workers through the Great Depression, World War II, the McCarthy era, the collapse of the studio system, the rise of television, runaway production, fights for gender parity, the digital revolution, and now a global pandemic that has put production in limbo. The essays in this collection help us understand how media labor is understood, how the unions have determined their priorities and interests (particularly in times of crisis), and ultimately how Hollywood unions help us to understand film and television with more depth and nuance. Focusing on these histories, this collection illuminates how Hollywood’s media production work is organized and how labor structures help inform what audiences see on screen.