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Labor Day
September 3rd, 2006

courtesy IWW.

Here's a little Labor Day message for my friends in AnimationLand. I haven't been in union management for 5 years now, but I keep the union in my heart. By that I don't mean I love silly badges, dues and booklets with photos of thick necked hoodlums in suits shaking hands.

I mean the idea, the concept, that artists acting not as loners but acting together, speaking with one voice, can achieve better conditions for us all. Or at least make the big companies that employ us think twice about getting away with something.

We love animation, we love making cartoons and making people smile, but don't be naïve. We are also in a business. I've worked in all facets of this business including as an employer, and let me tell you some truths. Nothing you have today as an artist was given to you because your boss has a big heart. All our conditions, our wages, health plans, the Labor Day three day weekend itself, was won out of struggle. Every good thing had to be negotiated, threatened over, agitated for.

The weekend off isn't a fact of nature like the seasons. Animation people worked six day weeks until 1941 and no one paid overtime until the unions forced them to. And this isn't a history lesson. Most CGI studios didn’t pay overtime until the threat of going union forced them to. Our ancestors risked their careers, their livelihoods, even physical violence to win the benefits we take for granted.

And talent has nothing to do with it. Mozart died poor. Rembrandt went bankrupt. Many of the top Hollywood legends that we love to gush about worked for a weekly paycheck and got nothing else. I knew many animation legends in their old age, who if they didn't have our union pension would have had spent their last years in poverty.

Let me tell you what the world is like. Employers and Employees act in a Push-Me-Pull-You system. An endless tug of war with no winners. To say you don't want to play and be part of it, merely encourages the other side to push you even harder, until you wise up and push back. That’s how it is. If you won't work together and only think of yourself, you will soon see lower wages, no security, a studio will enact conditions you will find intolerable. You can't achieve much by yourself, no matter what a genius artist you are. In my years as union prez I saw studios fire someone for getting HIV, if you were a smoker, even at home, you were forced to join a no-smoking program, dress codes, studios going bankrupt owing artists thousands of dollars in back pay. This isn't history, this is going on right now. Ever try and sue a multinational corporation by yourself?

I know many good employers and producers. Many of them love animation as much as their artists do. It is a thrill when they can create the opportunity for their artists to create a new hit show or character. The producers who love animation don't have a problem with what I'm saying here. Most will agree because they may have SAG or WGA cards themselves.

But, for every one of those producers who genuinely love our business, there are more who are just out for a quick buck. While you love art and animation, they love making money out of your ass. They could just as well be financing cow insemination as cartoons. They'll make their pile and move on, while you and I just get eyestrain and a flatter bottom.

Charles Schulz, the creator of Peanuts, arguably the most successful self-made cartoonist of our time, once told his fellow cartoonists" Just remember the big difference between you and the people you work for. You can draw, they can't. So they will never look upon you as one of them." You are a cow to be milked, you are a software program to be used and disgarded. Joanne Siegel, the widow of Superman co-creator Joe Siegel and the model for Lois Lane, said to us" All artists have to stick together, else you're nothing to them."Frank Thomas once said:" You can't afford to ignore your union."

Unions can make mistakes. I made mistakes. Democracy is a messy process. People are fallible. But the concept of an artists' union is good. After all the companies have folded, all the projects are forgotten, all the bonuses and raises and layoffs, your fellow artists are always there with you. We are a tribe. We will never let you down. We have no security but to look after each other. Actors know that, ballet dancers and ball players know that, we in animation should know that to.

So this Labor Day I will take a moment from my barbeque to raise a glass to us, the animation people. The worst paid, least respected, yet finest artists in the world!

Happy Labor Day