The accidental shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins at the hands of Alec Baldwin on the set of Rust has to be understood in the light of the struggle of the stagehands’ union, IATSE, for a good contract. And that struggle, in itself, has to be understood in the context of what is happening in the labor movement in general.
Earlier this month, IATSE was set to go on strike. That strike was called off by the union leadership because of a last second tentative agreement (TA). There were reports of widespread discontent of the membership over this, especially since it will take weeks and possibly even months for the membership to vote on this TA. Meanwhile, the companies get to carry on as usual. According to Payday Report, among other things, the TA does not require film companies to give meal breaks and will not end the practice of “Fraturdays”, under which workers are required to work through Friday night into Saturday morning. Payday Report also reported discontent over wage improvement and other issues.
Those of us outside the entertainment industry don’t know what really goes on in the production of a film or TV show, but an Associated Press report explained it in general terms: It commented on the reluctance of people to speak out “for fear of being rendered unemployable in the ultracompetitive entertainment industry.” In other words, Hollywood blacklisting is alive and well. Prop maker/pyrotechnician Maggie Goll, who worked on Rust and spoke out about the death of Hutchins, explained that speaking out “could very well end my career.” One can well imagine that the lure of becoming a star – not just an acting star, but a cinematographer or prop maker – really complicates collective action.
All of this came together, like the Sun’s rays concentrated through a magnifying glass, in the death of Hutchins, who was herself considered a rising cinematographer star. The report below lays it all out.
Neophyte Armorer Hanna Gutierrez
The armorer, Hanna Gutierrez, was totally unqualified and, if her self-published photo is any guide, seemed to see guns as toys or some sort of glamorous decoration. Her father, Thell Reed, is apparently well established and it’s hard not to see how his position didn’t get her the job, especially since in a previous movie she was armorer in, The Old Way, one source commented on her “carelessness” with guns. Gutierrez is also reported to have handed an unchecked gun to child actress Ryan Kiera Armstrong.
Cheapskate Dave Halls
The assistant director, Dave Halls – the one who handed the loaded gun to Baldwin – also bears some blame. According to the above-quoted Maggie Goll, “He did not maintain a safe working environment. Sets were almost always allowed to become increasingly claustrophobic, no established fire lanes, exits blocked. … Safety meetings were nonexistent.” According to Goll, Hall had tried to keep filming even after a pyrotechnician had suffered a medical emergency and the set had become unsafe. In fact, according to the Washington Post Halls had been fired from a film production in 2019 “after an unexpected discharge on that set”. The Post quotes the producer of that 2019 film: “Halls was removed from set immediately after the prop gun discharged. Production did not resume filming until Dave was off-site. An incident report was taken and filed at that time.” So there is no reason that the producers of Rust would not have known about Hall’s record.
Overall, the situation in the production of Rust was so hellish that several IATSE crew members felt forced to walk off the job over both not being paid on time and lack of safety measures. This includes two previous accidental discharges of guns on the set.
The production company, Rust Movie Productions LLC, was known for cutting corners in general, and this brings us full circle. Didn’t they have a contract with IATSE? If so, then why were they allowed to replace the union members with non-union? And why did the union allow other union members, including Halyna Hutchins, to continue working? The entertainment industry is a somewhat different world to those outside it (including this writer), but why should we think the IATSE leadership is any different from that of the Carpenters? See Western Washington Carpenters Can Make History for example. For the UAW see the interview with UAW member Justin Mayhugh. Mayhugh explains that like the rest of the union leadership, the UAW leadership acts like a buffer between the company and the membership. There is every indication that the IATSE leadership sees their role the same way.
As Oaklandsocialist has pointed out over and over, there seems to be a rebellion developing within the unions. This is a rebellion against a leadership that is selling the members short, that refuses to actually lead a struggle of workers against the offensive of the employers. First the Western Washington carpenters and then the UAW members at John Deere voted down cut rate contracts that their leaderships were
peddling. By doing so, they forced those leaderships to call strikes. In the case of the carpenters, some members went beyond the “designed to fail” strike strategy and actually initiated wildcat (independent) action. (See this video.) That is what will be required. In the case of the John Deere strike, already one picket line has been hamstrung by a union-busting court order. Since the leadership is committed to playing by these union busting rules, the question is whether the membership will go beyond them on their own and return the UAW to its roots – mass pickets and open defiance of these court orders? After all, the reported widespread community support means such a strategy is entirely possible. See: John Deere Strikers Can Win It All… And Transform the Labor Movement! In the case of IATSE, the contract ratification is being delayed by weeks and possibly months. The question is whether the members will allow themselves to be hamstrung by these official roadblocks, or whether they will go even further than the carpenters went and shut down the industry as a whole. In other words, will they follow the example of those IATSE members who walked off the set at the production or Rust and build an industry-wide walkout? If they do, it would be a huge blow against bureaucratic control of the entire labor movement. It would be a huge step towards transforming the entire situation in US society as a whole.
Note: Oaklandsocialist would dearly like to talk with any IATSE members. We can be contacted at: Oaklandsocialist@gmail.com. Confidentiality guaranteed.