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Last week, I got to go see Clive Owen make his Broadway debut in Roundabout Theatre Company’s Old Times.  I also had a little too much wine beforehand.  As such, the following is not a review.

Old Times is by Nobel Laureate Harold Pinter and is a so-called “memory play”… this is theater-speak for difficult to follow.  

Old Times was also an unusually brief theater experience, a mere 67 minutes.  In the short time I was seated in the American Airlines Theater a lot of urgent questions came up for me…not all these questions were related to Pinter’s abstract script.  See below:

How much are tickets to Old Times on Broadway…per minute?

By my calculations, anywhere from $1.25 – $5 or more per minute if you buy directly from the box office.  I couldn’t help but wonder if 
maybe they should have inserted some more of Pinter’s famous pauses (google: “Pinter pause”) to add value for the audience.

How much does the show cost the The Roundabout Theatre Company…per minute?


A silly question, maybe, considering all the preliminary work that goes into a large-scale production like Old Times.  But interesting because Roundabout is the nation’s largest 501c3 not-for-profit theater company.   

Apparently, they also have to publish a public financial report which would answer the question of how much the production costs.  This report will come out next year so stay tuned  (Roundabout is likely back in the black thanks to a network of donors and subscribers after a recession that hit the arts hard).  But the financial report will not explicitly answer the next question…



How much does Clive Owen make…per minute?


An internet search for “Clive Owen salary” reveals that Clive Owen may be one of the highest paid actors in the world…but there is little to be found regarding compensation for his theater work.  

Clive Owens, if I had to take a not-very-educated guess, is making less than the $150,000 per week Julia Roberts reportedly made for her star-turn in Three Days of Rain.  Let’s say he makes the same $40,000 Patti Lupone allegedly pulled in for the last Broadway revival of Gypsy.

 It is not-for-profit after all, it’s a meaty role that Clive expressed great interest in and it is not like he needs the money.

So let’s say $40,000.  He performs for a total of 536 enigmatic, sexually-charged minutes per week.  That is a total of 74.63 unconfirmed US Dollars per minute of stage time.  It’s not Hollywood money but it’ll pay the bills.



I won’t touch the issue of wage inequality based on gender…and the question of how much Clive’s Tony-nominated female co-star Eve Best might be making.  But I’m all over the implications for income inequality…


How about the other workers on the show: what do they make?


A living wage.

The New York theater industry is heavily unionized.  FOX News aired an interview a few years back with Broadway producer Barry Habib of Rock of Ages, in which he knocked the influence of organized labor.  In fact, as many as 17 unions represent workers and artists in some Broadway productions, many under the umbrella of IATSE (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees).  This ensures that, in an industry that is VERY fickle and precarious, all workers involved are paid a living wage as long as the show is running and enjoy benefits such as health insurance long after it closes.   


By the way, producers have been known to complain about the high cost of the acting talent as a percentage of their total costs when negotiating with the actor’s union, Actor’s Equity Association (AEA).  But Equity does not negotiate star salaries; they simply negotiate minimums.  So a union can not be blamed for the star salaries here as much as the star’s agents and the stars themselves…and maybe a little bit the audience that flocks to see such stars.

What does Old Times have to teach us? 



There has been a lot of buzz recently on the “Hollywood” business model: a short-term, project-based model of employment.  In a world of work increasingly precarious, movies create a ton of good quality, high-paying jobs…so much so, that cities throughout the US now offer tax credits to lure production.  In large part, this is due to the unions that represent many of the workers.  But it was Broadway that wrote the book on equitable pay for skilled temporary workers.

If producers bemoan the cost of doing business on Broadway as compared to, say, London, it is because everyone gets paid more over here.  Broadway theater professionals can, unlike their counterparts in London, afford to live within the city limits.  That includes dressers and stage technicians as well as stars like Clive Owen living the proverbial American Dream.  No wonder our stages and films are filled with Brits.  

Roundabout reports that 70% of its “salaries and benefits” costs are paid under collective bargaining agreements, that is to say, negotiates by unions.  In my mind, that is all the more reason to subscribe.  

The revenue from your ticket to Old Times goes to support a not-for-profit institution that manages to pay equitable salaries for hundreds of Americans.  Pat yourself on the back.  You can feel good about supporting the theater.

Oh ya: Old Times is also an important British play from an important British playwright with a big-name British movie star…and you’ll be out by 9:30.

Professional actor turned hotel concierge, Dana Steer arrived in New York to pursue a career on the musical stage in 2000.  Work as an actor came and went—and Dana found opportunity to explore many other professions and interests.  He eventually settled into a job in New York’s robust hotel industry.  His professional life in the arts and the hotel industry has been shaped by unions: Actor’s Equity, SAG/AFTRA and more recently the New York Hotel Trades Council, the union of hotel workers.  An interest in the world of work and social justice in the workplace brought Dana to the renowned Murphy Institute at CUNY SPS, where he is pursuing a Masters degree in Labor Studies.  Dana is active in his union and holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Music from Carnegie Mellon University.

All across the country, states are facing budget crises and are looking to fix the situation. However, the focus of many of the “fixes” is to attack public sector unions and erode labor rights in general. The justification is that public sector workers supposedly have inflated benefit packages, and they must finally “pay their fair share.”  In reality, this is hogwash. It is nothing more than an excuse to bust unions, rollback social safety nets, all while giving tax cuts to the rich. On the Rachel Maddow Show, Naomi Klein brilliantly describes what is really going on. The recent massive demonstrations in Wisconsin, and the threat of a general strike by some labor leaders, show that this time workers aren’t necessarily going to sit back and take the beating.

Most of the ant-union bills are happening under Republican governors. But working people are under attack, under the pretext of addressing a fiscal crisis, even under the reign Democratic local governments. In Providence, RI, for example, a labor-backed mayor recently handed all of the public school teachers pink slips. This was to prepare for firings and school closings that are said to be imminent and necessary to address the deficit. I just wrote something on the situation.

I propose one “fix” that would both help solve some of these economic woes and be fair. It focuses on going after those who bask in great wealth even during the economic crisis that they caused. We need to raise taxes on corporations and the rich. We need to collect the taxes that they owe and close the loopholes that allow them to shield money from taxes. The reality is that many corporations pay little to no taxes, and the rich pay taxes almost a third lower than they did in the 1950s—a time of great economic growth.

Yes, taxes need to be cut. We need to extend the tax cuts for the bottom 80% of the population–I would even settle for extending them for the bottom 95%. However, the top percentiles’ taxes need to be increased, so here are a few reasons why we should raise (and collect!) taxes on the rich, not cut them.

First, history shows that they can handle it. In the golden age of capitalism–a time where GDP growth rates vastly outpaced those of the last 30 years–the top tax brackets paid taxes as high as 94% of their income. High rates lasted up until as late as the early 1970s, with them paying 70%.

Second, it is good for the economy and the budget. It provides government income that can be used to provided vital services to the working class–like unemployment benefits, subsidized housing and healthcare, increasing the minimum wage, etc.–as well as be a source of funding for infrastructure spending–which we need badly, especially in addressing the ecological crisis. Both of these things stimulate the economy and provide jobs. Providing the social services reducing inequality and decreases the chances of economic meltdown. It also puts more dispensable income in the hands of people who will spend it, increasing demand and stimulating the economy. Infrastructure spending will directly create jobs–that’s an easy one.

Third, tax cuts for the wealthy do not create jobs at the level we need, if any at all. Wealthy people do not put their money into the economy the same way that working class and middle income people do. They are more likely to save it or sit on it to wait for more profitable times in the market. For example, reports came out recently stating that non-financial companies are sitting on over a TRILLION DOLLARS. Yet, they are not hiring people. This is because they don’t have confidence in the market. They don’t think they’ll make the profits the want. Here’s the link to the article.

What we need is a high road, wage-led growth, not low road, profit-led growth. The latter is what we’ve had since the 70s–the neoliberal era. This can be done in the short term by providing adequate fiscal stimulus–much, much, larger than has already been provided–and taxing the wealthy and cutting wasteful spending can pay for it (a few wars come to mind). Also, the government needs to have a more active role in creating jobs through infrastructure spending, etc. Trickle-down economics just doesn’t work.

But here’s the catch. It is going to be difficult to for anything to happen on the federal level in the next two years. We couldn’t get meaningful economic legislation passed under a Democratic majority, never mind under a Republican controlled house. We need to consolidate our forces on the ground and build so we can pressure for change from below now, as well as get some people elected in 2012. This does not, however, suggest extending tax cuts for the wealthy and cutting spending on social programs becomes the only option. That will only exacerbate the crisis even more. We need to buckle down and make sure that they DON”T get extended, that labor rights are not taken away, that teachers don’t get fired, and defend all of the other programs that are good–like social security. Also, there is room for us to wage battles on the state level. If we show our power in the streets, as they have done in Wisconsin, we can make them listen to us. A state-wide or nation-wide general strike certainly would shift some power to our hands.

The first step is to break away from the narrative that says solving the economic crisis “will require shared sacrifice across our community,” to quote Providence, RI’s Mayor Taveras. Working people are always sacrificing. It’s time for those who caused the current crisis—and for those who benefit from the perpetual crisis working people face laboring under an oppressive system like capitalism—to pay. Let’s draw a line in the sand and pick sides. Which side will you choose?

John Cronan Jr is a restaurant worker, organizer, and a masters student at the Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies.  Currently, he is a volunteer organizer for the Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York (ROC-NY). John is also an avid Boston sports fan.

A few weeks ago, in a supposed attempt to put a dent in the federal deficit, Obama announced that he would be freezing wages for federal employees—over 2 million workers.  Obama said, “The hard truth is that getting this deficit under control is going to require some broad sacrifice…And that sacrifice must be shared by the employees of the federal government.” This is just pure nonsense. Freezing wages for working class people in bad economic times will at best only contribute to a sluggish recovery, and at worst contribute to a double-dip into a recession.  Furthermore, why do ordinary Americans—most federal employees are not analysts making 6 figures—have to share the sacrifice alone? What about the rich?  Maybe they will just share their sacrifice in taxes….

Try again.  Yesterday, the Senate pretty much sured up the passage a controversial tax bill, as it cleared a procedural hurdle with overwhelming support.  The upside is that the bill extends unemployment benefits for 13 months. The downside is, well, everything else. Worst of all, it will extend Bush-era tax cuts, including the ones for the rich—going against one of his biggest campaign promises not to do so.  This part of the bill was forcefully pushed by Republicans but Obama easily caved in, per usual these days.  Yes, you heard me right. The bankers on Wall St. and the other super rich get “socialism for the rich” through bailouts, and they also get rewarded with tax breaks.

Firstly, this is, and should be, a huge insult to every working person in the United States.  It shows that bankers and corporations matter most, and they will be rewarded no matter how much they ruin our economy and people’s lives in the process.  Secondly, the fact that unemployment benefits were held hostage and tagged onto a bill that will hurt working people should also be an insult. Thirdly, it will add to the federal deficit by taking away billions of dollars in federal revenue.  Confused? Weren’t they trying to reduce that? Fourthly, it shows that the elites really don’t care about the deficit.  It is merely used as an excuse to attack social spending on programs and services that benefit working people, and at the same time ensure that the rich get richer.  Now it makes sense, no?

As I argued in a previous post, on the whole the Democrats are not able to put forth truly progressive economy policy because they are beholden to moneyed interests.  However, this seems to be the beginning of austerity programs that are not only regressive, but represent an escalation of the thirty years or so attack that has been taking place against working America.  Sadly, they will only worse under the coming Republican controlled House and weakened Democratic Senate. And, yes, this should be cause for great concern.

I could continue to explain the ills of the measures, but I think they speak for themselves.  The real question is what to do.  I think these recent events change the game plan a bit.  More than ever I am convinced that there is very little hope of getting any progressive measure passed in the next two years on a national level, and the chances of regressive measures has increased. Therefore, I believe we must focus more than ever on building grassroots opposition to any and all policies and forces that siege oppressed communities.  We need to start now if we are to have any influence in the years to come.

I think for the labor movement this means a few things.   It means that it is time for it to take its place as a leading actor and advocate for working and oppressed people everywhere. In a great article in the New Labor Forum, Stephen Lerner of SEIU says:

This is the time to offer a moral voice for those devastated by the economic crisis, and to have the courage and passion to liberate ourselves from the straitjacket of limited expectations. Unions, and their members, must join with communities long mired in poverty—and the tens of millions of people being forced out of the middle class—to imagine and articulate a vision of a better world, and to help lead the battle to win it. We have the opportunity to work with a growing group of potential allies to develop a plan and strategy to achieve that vision—but, to do so, we have to question and challenge long held assumptions and ideas.

One of those “long held assumptions” is that what is good for free market capitalism is good for us.  We need to ditch that in the gutter.  So, yes, we are in tough political climate, but we should use such hectic times to provide a true voice of hope and vision; and a vehicle to exercise collective will to reach it.  Let’s get started. It’s getting cold.

John Cronan Jr is a restaurant worker, organizer, and a masters student at the Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies.  Currently, he is a volunteer organizer for the Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York (ROC-NY). John is also an avid Boston sports fan.

Today is Election Day, and we could quite possibly see many changes in Congress and in governships. It’s just not the kind of change that President Obama and his supporters were hoping for. See, the Democrats are on track to lose seats in both the House and the Senate, with a very good chance of losing control of one or both of them.   The writing has been on the wall for months, as unemployment continues to remain high and foreclosures hit record numbers.  This has made people angry, very angry, and they are targeting their anger at the party in power—the Democrats.

The most visible, and I stress visible, example of citizen outrage has been the Tea Party.  Some have argued that their size and strength are not as massive as the media has made it out to be.  Regardless, their message has received immense media coverage. Tea Party supporters not only call for a reduction in government spending and tower taxes but also accuse the President of being a socialist. The latter, and of course the former, are most vocally expressed by Fox News personalities like Bill O’Reilly and Glen Beck.

The first casualty of voter backlash happened in January, in Massachusetts, when Republican Scott Brown, in a special election, won the vacant U.S. Senate seat formerly held by Ted Kennedy—a hero among liberal Democrats.  Brown campaigned on a platform that railed against the healthcare bill and decried the woes of government spending.  Now enter organized labor.

The very next day, the president of the AFL-CIO, Rich Trumka, released a video discussing the results in Massachusetts.  He rightfully pointed out that pundits in the corporate media were going to attribute the outcome to voters punishing the Democrats for overreaching in policy-making, when the opposite is true.  For example, on issues like healthcare, many Americans feel that the bill did not go far enough!  Trumka stressed that working people feel like Wall Street and the bankers are being taken care of but working people are not.  He said that Scott Brown’s victory should be a wake-up call to both Democrats and Labor.  It signaled that people want action and not excuses.  It was an excellent address.   However, what kind of action would Labor take as part of their wake-up call?

Well, even before the Brown victory, Trumka threatened to cut support for Democrats who didn’t push for a more comprehensive healthcare bill and who didn’t back the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA).  Specifically concerning healthcare, Trumka issued a threat:

Well, we need to send them a special message: it’s that you may have forgotten what the labor movement did to get you elected; but, by God, we never will! And if you stab us in the back on health care this year don’t you dare ask us for our support next year!

Fast forward to the present. What has happened? Healthcare passed without a public option, EFCA is not even being talked about, and the government is not taking adequate measures to spur job creation—like something along the lines of a public works project of some sort.  Then, don’t forget that we have two wars going on and something called climate change. Oh, boy! Watch out! Labor must be planning to run more progressive candidates against Democratic incumbents who did not follow through, right? Wrong.

Instead, all of the blame is being put only on Republicans and Fox News.  Labor is scrambling, at the tune of millions of dollars, to get the very same Democrats who should be on the chopping block re-elected.  Is it just me, or is there something wrong with this situation?  Didn’t these people betray us?

I am in no way advocating that Labor throw their support behind the Republicans as a way to smite the Democrats. I am saying that if Labor truly wants to fight on behalf of working-class people, it needs to be able to flex its muscle and make good on its promises (and threats).  Otherwise, our elected officials have no reason to listen to us.  As Trumka, himself, noted, Americans truly want change in a progressive direction.  The labor movement should be at the forefront of providing a vehicle for that change, and to get on that path, the unions out there might want to question their relationship to the Democratic Party.

I would also like to make a suggestion to labor leaders and rank-and-file workers, alike.  We should always work to get the most pro-labor candidates in office, but time after time, we see politicians fall very short on their promises. There is a way, however, to increase the chances that our voices are heard and our demands met. And that way is to mobilize the power we have as workers outside of the ballot box.  Sometimes we need to vote with our feet in the streets.  We could definitely learn from our fellow workers in France about that.

John Cronan Jr is a restaurant worker, organizer, and a masters student at the Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies.  Currently, he is a volunteer organizer for the Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York (ROC-NY). John is also an avid Boston sports fan.