I’m sure everyone’s been following the brouhaha here in Wisconsin between organized public-sector labor (which—in interest of disclosure—includes Yours Truly) and newly-elected Republican governor Scott Walker’s bill in the state legislature to eliminate collective bargaining for almost all public-sector unions. (One guess which side of this debate I’m on.) All of which has led me to think about examples of how unions are portrayed in animation and comics… a few examples I’ve thought of:
Unsurprisingly, “The Simpsons” have poked fun at unions on various occasions (including their downsides/problems with corruption). Still, unions’ most prominent role came in the fourth season episode “Last Exit to Springfield.” In this episode, Homer becomes the head of the power plant’s union to try to keep the plant workers from losing (on a whim of Mr. Burns) their dental plan, so he won’t have to pay for braces Lisa needs. This leads to the usual amusing range of classic-Simpsons humor, including the union going on strike (which Mr. Burns deals with badly). One of the best parts is the brief parody of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”
Unions and/or strikes appeared twice in this strip: in the first storyline, Santa Claus’ elves go on strike, only to be fired by President Reagan (parodying the famous air traffic controllers’ strike of the early 80s, where Reagan fired said controllers). The second, longer storyline had the strip’s characters’ union walk out and go on strike over their comic’s “working conditions.” The executive in charge of the strip promptly decides to replace the striking characters with scabs (including a cameo by a parody of political cartoonist Pat Oliphant’s little corner-of-the-strip bird as Opus’ “replacement”). Unfortunately for our heroes, they didn’t win this labor fight (never mind that within their universe and in real life, their strip went defunct several years later…).
Apparently, despite decades of loyalty to his employer, Clark Kent’s been on strike at least once: “Superman” #271 from 1974 features Clark, along with his fellow WGBS-TV employees, went on strike. (From 1971 through 1986, the “Daily Planet” was owned by Galaxy Broadcasting, with Galaxy’s headquarters/flagship station WGBS-TV integrated into the “Daily Planet” building. Clark was reassigned as WGBS’ evening news anchor.) Clark’s boss, Morgan Edge (owner of Galaxy), was empathetic to the strikers’ demands, but told them said demands would have to be cleared with his fellow head honchos first. Since Clark wasn’t squeezing coal into diamonds for cash and/or hitting up his friend Bruce Wayne for loans, I’ll assume the strikers were successful.
In real life, there’ve been a few animation studio strikes; the most famous one was probably the 1941 strike at Walt Disney’s studios, during the production of “Dumbo.”