Entertainment union Equity to hold rallies in solidarity with US strikes

Equity holding a rally last year. They will hold rallies on Friday in London and Manchester in solidarity with their US counterparts (Ian West, PA)
Equity holding a rally last year. They will hold rallies on Friday in London and Manchester in solidarity with their US counterparts (Ian West, PA)

British performing arts and entertainment trade union Equity says it will hold rallies in London and Manchester this week in solidarity with striking US actors.

The rallies will take place on Friday, one week after the start of major industrial action by Equity’s sister union in America, the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (Sag-Aftra).

It came after the union, which represents around 160,000 actors across the US, failed to negotiate new contracts with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP).

Multiple Hollywood stars have been pictured on the picket lines this week, joining striking members of the Writers Guild of America, who began industrial action on May 2.

It is the first time since 1960 both unions have been on strike simultaneously and has caused major disruption to Hollywood productions, premieres, and conventions.

Actors including Hilary Duff, Bob Odenkirk, Josh Gad and Kevin Bacon are among those who have joined US picketers in person, other stars including George Clooney, Jamie Lee Curtis and Jessica Chastain voicing support online.

On Tuesday, Equity announced rallies would take place on Friday at noon in London’s Leicester Square and Media City in Manchester.

Hollywood Strikes
Husband and wife actors Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick were a part of the picket line outside NBCUniversal at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York (Ted Shaffrey, PA)

Speakers at the London rally will include Equity general secretary Paul Fleming, the union president Lynda Rooke and Labour MP John McDonnell.

A statement from the union said: “Equity stands full square behind our sister union in their claim, and the action they have decided to take.

“Equity too is experiencing bullish engagers attempting to undermine its collectively bargained agreements. Sag-Aftra has our total solidarity in this fight.”

The contract between Sag-Aftra and the AMPTP, which represents the major film studios, TV networks and streaming giants, expired after negotiators failed to reach an agreement over a number of issues including pay and the use of artificial intelligence (AI).

The union said actors face an “existential threat to their livelihoods” with the rise of generative AI technology and the threat of unregulated use.

The issue of pay has also been a key part of negotiations as the advent of streaming has changed the way actors are compensated for their work.

In the past they would make money from residuals, where they would be paid based on re-runs of their shows and films, but streaming has severely dented this, with actors and writers saying their residuals have plummeted.

Equity said the issues of pay and residual payments were “long-standing, shared fights”, and that it too was facing “head-on existential questions” about AI and the rise in virtual auditions and self-tapes.

Hollywood Strikes
Actors Alan Ruck, left, and Justine Lupe, members of the cast of “Succession,” carry picket signs outside Warner Bros. studios in  California (Chris Pizzello, AP)

The union added it had been in “constant contact” with Sag-Aftra throughout the negotiations, Mr Fleming and Ms Rooke attending talks in Los Angeles earlier this month.

“We will continue to work closely and collaboratively on advice for artists working in the United Kingdom as the situation develops, and to show our solidarity with our sister union and their fight,” Equity said.

During the strike, Sag-Aftra members will not film new projects or be able to promote their films at junkets, premieres, awards shows or conventions, including the 2023 San Diego Comic Con, which is due to begin on Thursday.

Producers of independent films could be granted waivers to continue shooting despite the strike, as long as they are operating outside the studio system.

Marvel star Mark Ruffalo was among the high-profile actors to voice support for such waivers and possible sharing of profits from successful independent films.