On the Picket Line: SAG-AFTRA Member Reflects on What His First Strike Has Taught Him

Issue 282

Solidarity is the antidote to fear.

Peter Carellini Sep 18

Three days out of the week, I pull myself out of bed at 7:30 a.m., grinning and getting pumped up as I hop on the A train to lead SAG-AFTRA picket lines as a strike captain at HBO and Amazon headquarters on West 33rd Street.

I remember falling asleep the night before the SAG-AFTRA strike was announced … my stomach churned and I dreaded what would come in the morning.

There await thespians of every age. Some are friends and others are strangers, but that is all irrelevant once I pick up the megaphone — our shared anger rises as the picket resumes for another day. We build our rhythm together as we curse Hollywood executives Bob Iger and David Zaslav, and suddenly things seem far from grim. When drivers pass by and honk, the whole world feels united in solidarity. 

I remember falling asleep the night before the SAG-AFTRA strike was announced; it was akin to a thorny election eve, or last sleep prior to a live perform­ance, in which my stomach churned and I dreaded what would come in the morning. I’d only been in the union for six-and-a-half months and now, my healthcare eligibility, my income was to be in jeopardy? My dreams of being involved in labor action aside, and the necessity of strikes notwithstanding, I felt a deep unease — especially after seeing how studios were responding to the ongoing writers strike that began May 2. 

And the next morning I awoke to a text from my ever-vigilant father informing me that yes, I was on strike. 

In that moment, the dread was gone; unexpectedly, I began to bubble with excitement. It occurred to me that the strike meant more than a fight for a fair deal. 

As the casual cruelty of studio executives started to leak to the public, I saw a larger picture. Labor actions were increasing in a way they had not in decades. The recent labor organizing of UPS drivers, train workers, Amazon workers, Starbucks baristas and hotel workers, just to name a few, has been making headlines. Now, 160,000 of us actors and 11,500 screenwriters are on strike at the same time, affecting the country in an omnipresent fashion: For the first time since 1960, all of Hollywood is on strike — and the strike is on your screens.  

I’m excited to see some beloved high-paid actors taking for the first time a firm public stand against aspects of capitalism. Whether they are guided by altruism or a keen sense of self-preservation, they are participating in a massive labor action for all to see. 

Fran Drescher’s short soliloquy went viral and received millions of views. It’s worth checking out.

Labor action has not been, for lack of a better word, cooler or more widespread in most Americans’ lifetimes, and hopefully that trend is just beginning to rise.

Our strike began on July 14. We’re forcing AI into a retreat, to the sound of cheers. We’re roaring defiantly at the wealth hoarding of CEOs and large shareholders, rather than letting them continue to slyly destroy our livelihoods, to the sound of cheers. 

The the industry that has essentially raised generations of youth is making a stand. My own conservative, Reagan-lionizing  relatives have cheered me and my fellows on. Watching grossly overpaid studio bosses flail and panic in real time while their matinee heroes and dream makers unite in solidarity was good old-fashioned entertainment the whole family could enjoy.

Now in my third month of striking, I do wish I could return to work, to a steady income. And yet still, as I lead picket chants and I turn my head to look at my comrades, I feel a wave of hope unlike any other in my lifetime.

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