Ezra Klein points me to this interview with the folks from the Writer's Guild on the strike:
They sat there and camped at that point, waiting for us to bargain against ourselves and come back with "Please, sir, may I have another?" which is the way our bargaining had gone on for 20 years, when both our unions had chief negotiators that were much more simpatico with the other side and were willing to make a behind-the-scenes deal and make the process a lot less contentious. This time we have a union organizer in charge of our union [David Young, formerly of the Garment Workers, the Carpenters and other unions], they (SAG) have a linebacker [Doug Allen, a onetime member of the Buffalo Bills]. We've got a militancy that we didn't have previously, and that has made for a refusal to play by rules that don't help us win and don't help us get what we think is fair.
I find it interesting that the union is getting more militant just as their bargaining position gets weaker. There's competition from the web, and from DVDs of their old programs; frankly, I haven't watched television since I left the US, and haven't missed it. Yet the union's strategy is to become more militant. My sense is that this is a common pattern--that unions are often the most aggressive right before they expire. But I don't have any rigorous study to back this up.
Not that I think the writer's union will expire. But I should expect its power to wane over the next 20 years, as newer non-unionized outlets take up more and more space in peoples' lives. I wonder what they expect?