BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield. Headline news and newspaper factoids don't lend themselves to the coverage of intricate labor/management disputes. In fact, writer George Packer has found the press can't seem to get interested in job actions at all unless they involve Hollywood. His piece, titled Lights, Camera Strike appears in this Sunday New York Times Magazine. He joins me now. George Packer, welcome to On the Media.
GEORGE PACKER: Pleasure being here.
BOB GARFIELD: So you pick up the newspaper or you watch the TV news -- you see a lot about Capital Hill; you'll see quite a bit about Grant Hill; you won't see much about Joe Hill, will you?
GEORGE PACKER: Joe Hill is dead and buried, and he's had a strange second life or resurrection in a expensively tailored suit warn by the head of the NBA Players Association or the Screen Actors Guild. What's interesting to me is the last few years have seen something of a, a resurgence of organized labor in areas that we're not used to seeing workers organize, namely the service economy. But it's been very hard to get that story into the news and into the public consciousness whereas it, whenever there's a threatened baseball strike, basketball strike, screenwriters/screen actors strike it's - it's on the front page for weeks.
BOB GARFIELD:When it appeared that the screen actors and screen writers were going to simultaneously go on strike, there was something close to saturation coverage in the media. Was there anything else going on in the labor world simultaneously that you thought was at least as deserving of the media's attention?
GEORGE PACKER: Yeah. Not, not long before those threatened strikes there was an actual strike of bus drivers in Los Angeles County which mostly inconvenienced low wage workers themselves, so it too was not a particularly sexy national story.
BOB GARFIELD:I want to ask you about the situation at Harvard. Now that got some press. Did that buck the trend or was it just more evidence of the trend?
GEORGE PACKER: I think to their credit students rather than focusing on some issue as far away as Burma looked at what was going on in their own university and, and took an action and the university seems to have met them part way and the action ended. But your question is a good one and I think in a way if it hadn't been for the voices of the most privileged young people in the country backed by movie stars like Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, I don't think there's a chance that Harvard's low wage workers would have, would have gotten national attention and, and would have had - brought the university at least part way toward, toward what they wanted. So in a way it just sort of is the exception that proves the rule that in order to reach the public you need to be privileged or you need to have a story that involves people who are articulate, privileged, educated, attractive-- and preferably, you know, good on the big screen.
BOB GARFIELD:There is of course a solution to this whole problem; I think you alluded to it earlier. The arrogant colossus of the corporation is perfect Hollywood fare and if just as the film Traffic called attention to the debate between drug enforcement and drug rehabilitation, maybe only Hollywood will enable you to break through the barrier of indifference.
GEORGE PACKER: If you can't beat them, join them. Yeah. It has been a tool-- in the past of organized labor in the '30s and '40s; in movies like Norma Rae in the '70s. Yeah, maybe-- what's his name? - Antonio Banderas or the guy who just won the Oscar for Supporting Actor in Traffic should sign their names to a project that is about some janitors or some industrial launderers in Los Angeles who have to decide whether or not to vote to join a union. It'd be a great movie!
BOB GARFIELD: And of course he'll get plenty of coverage for your movie in the press.
GEORGE PACKER:Exactly. Full page ads in the Times; little spots on Entertainment Tonight, on all the local news little tie-ins. Maybe local news will have interviews with actual industrial launderers. This is how these things begin.
BOB GARFIELD: George Packer thanks for joining us.
GEORGE PACKER: Thank you.
BOB GARFIELD:George Packer's most recent book is titled Blood of the Liberals. He also wrote a piece called Lights, Camera Strike for the most recent edition of the New York Times Magazine.