Studio workers to bring WTO battle to L.A.

Unemployed Hollywood studio workers who failed to make an impression at the World Trade Organization conference last week in embattled Seattle vowed Sunday to take their complaints to the Democratic National Convention next year in Los Angeles.

“I wish that I could say that we accomplished something specific up there, but we’ll come back,” said labor activist Michael Everett, who returned late Saturday to L.A. after spending a week demonstrating against government subsidies and free-trade policies that have sucked jobs away from Hollywood.

“We plan to bring the battle in Seattle to the Democratic convention to secure justice in future trade agreements,” said Everett, a 25-year industry veteran who marched alongside about 75 showbiz union members from L.A. and elsewhere.

They and the estimated 50,000 other protesters who went to Seattle from around the world fell far short of their aim to shut down the WTO.

Everett and others object to the idea, he said, that “these rules are created from the top down, without regard to what happens to us workers at the bottom.”

NAFTA a concern

Of particular concern, they say, is the North American Free Trade Agreement, which has allowed the Canadian government to claim “cultural exemptions” in order to offer handsome subsidies and tax incentives to U.S. film and television production companies.

“NAFTA created this loophole that just screwed us,” said Everett, a member of IATSE’s Studio Electrical Lighting Technicians Local 728 in Panorama City. “We don’t want to take Canadian jobs. We just want to level the playing field, without subsidies that determine where production goes. We’re not saying it all has to be here or that we’re somehow special.”

Everett — who was joined by, among others, Thom Davis, business rep for Motion Picture Studio Grips Local 80 in Burbank — said one of his aims is to “link up the Canadian, American and Mexican film workers to be able to counter the global media corporations.”

For Everett, marching on the Democrats in L.A. will be like stepping back in time: He was one of the demonstrators protesting U.S. involvement in Vietnam during the violence-ridden Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968, so the tear gas that wafted across the crowds last week in Seattle was not a new smell to him.

To go north for the WTO gathering, Everett said he quit a $3 million indie feature called “100 Girls,” a job that, in any event, was only paying him $12.50 an hour, far short of the $26 he commands in better times.

Little support for trip

Before leaving for Seattle, he had a hard time convincing fellow Hollywood workers that the trip would make a difference.

“Nobody knew about the WTO,” he said. “We couldn’t get them shaken up.”

Once there, Everett issued a warning to “all those who profit from the destruction of the Hollywood jobs base that we will not rest until the jobs taken from us by unfair and arbitrary ‘free’ trade rules are returned to us.”

But in the chaos that enveloped the conference — with hundreds of protesters running amok and arrested by riot police — there was almost no attention paid to issues affecting the entertainment industry.

Meetings involving Internet distribution of films, copyright protections and government film subsidies were canceled, delayed or sparsely attended because of the melees in the streets.

Everett and others kept up their drumbeat by e-mail, saying that corporations like Disney, Fox and Time-Warner “collect subsidies as a reward for the export of jobs.” Canada offers Hollywood producers payroll subsidies of up to 40%, Everett said, as a reward for shifting production — and the jobs that go with them — north of the border.

“The result has been tens of thousands of film and television jobs lost in Hollywood and other U.S. production centers,” Everett wrote. “Even as Canada reaps the benefits of runaway jobs, other countries, including our own, are setting up their own subsidies to join in a worldwide bidding war to capture film jobs.”

Tom Adair, exec director of the British Columbia Council of Film Unions, said his group’s protest was largely about the concentration of ownership of mass media and the threat this poses to the world’s cultures.

“It’s a big concern here when you have seven companies controlling 75% of the world’s media,” Adair told Daily Variety. “Just ask the independent film producers — it’s very difficult for them to get a film out, whether it’s in Los Angeles or in Canada.”

John Juliani, president of the Union of B.C. Performers, said he “fully supported the peaceful aspects of the protest, but the violence detracted from its effectiveness.”

(Don Townson in Seattle contributed to this story.)

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