Union Coercion and Your Newspaper
APRIL 01, 1959 by JOSEPH E. BROWN
Mr. Brown is Managing Editor of the
It is a sad truth that the public is the victim hit hardest when a handful of people, using the weapon of collective force bestowed upon our trade union movement, succeeds in crippling an industry through boycotts, strikes, and similar pressures. In
Let’s review, for a moment, the effect of this costliest newspaper strike in American history, for which nearly every one of the twelve million citizens of the
Coming in the midst of the Christmas shopping season, the shutdown slashed an estimated 7 per cent from anticipated Yuletide business of major stores which depended on newspaper advertising to draw customers. This loss amounts to about ten million dollars. Ten thousand of
In the school system, 270,000 of the city’s 300,000 students in 213 secondary schools accustomed to using newspapers in their instruction, were affected.
Contrast these facts with the dubious gains and the number of people who receive them. Directly involved were 4,500 members of the striking news handler’s union, representing only a fraction of the
They won their case, of course—a $7.00 per week "package." But discounting the strike benefits received, those who walked off their jobs and those forced to go with them must work more than ten months at the new pay rate before the "gains" will be realized, because they earned no pay during the strike.
But more tragic than these economic losses is the fact that a handful of union members, with a weapon sanctioned by law, struck a costly blow to freedom and forced concessions to their coercive force.
Because of its magnitude, the
We are quite aware of our constitutionally guaranteed freedom of the press and that this freedom is under attack on many fronts today. One much discussed front is the blanket of secrecy which shrouds an increasing number of activities in
These are the obvious dangers to our press, but they are dangers with which we can cope adequately in the courts because in most instances they violate one statute or another, and we recognize them as such.
Unseen Damage to Freedom
The danger of union coercion as it is practiced in the American newspaper industry, however, is one which too few Americans realize. Such attacks against freedom as that in
Worse, the most insidious phase of union pressure against our press, the undermining of a newspaper’s freedom by chipping away the integrity and character of those who operate it, is seldom seen by the public. It is seldom, in fact, seen or exposed by the very newspapers which are themselves the victims.
Nevertheless, the danger is there: growing, gnawing, chiseling at the roots of freedom to which our newspapers owe their existence.
Direct damage to this freedom exists in the form of strikes, boycotts, forced shutdowns and, the end result, suspension of publication, as in the case of the 114year-old Brooklyn Eagle in 1955. Pinched between spiraling costs of operation and the union’s demands, its management, at one point in negotiations, stated flatly that the demands could not be met if the newspaper were to survive. The union held firm. The result: the newspaper folded, and a million readers were forced to turn elsewhere for their news.
If the fact that a newspaper’s reading public is denied access to its news by such coercion is not a threat to freedom, then what is?
Last year, 28 daily newspapers in the
The Role of Newspapers
Despite the impact of television and other media as a means of communication, the American public still depends very largely upon its newspapers to inform, entertain, and serve as a guide in making decisions. Last year, for example, daily newspapers in the
A key reason for this trust, in my opinion, is that newspapers traditionally have remained unhampered by restrictions from the federal government such as are imposed, say, on the television-radio industry by the Federal Communications Commission.
But just as the direct control by the federal government limits the scope of freedom in television and radio, economic assaults on newspapers by labor unionism, which ultimately result in suspension of publication, are parallel examples of unjustified pressure against the press.
How Unions Use Coercion
A newspaper is a private business enterprise and as such must compete in the spirit of free enterprise. It can exist only as long as it is economically possible to do so. It is at this point that trade union interference, where that interference is exercised by means of coercion, rears its collectivist head.
Is not a union’s demand that prospective members of a newspaper’s editorial staff be "screened" by a union committee before being hired an indirect effrontery to the publisher’s right to hire as he sees fit? Is not a demand that news copy be examined and approved—censored, if you will—by a union official a like attack against the publisher’s rights? And isn’t physical intimidation of strike-breaking newspapermen, those who choose to work when others do not, another form of coercive pressure?
These are not generalities, by the way. They all occurred during a recent period in which I was associated with the
The point is that the
To Capture the Press
An increasing number of American newspapers each year are drawn within the sphere of union domination, either directly (through contracts in their own shops) or indirectly (through the. necessarily close alliance of their news columns with the community they represent).
Last year, when the American Newspaper Guild observed its twenty-fifth birthday, it announced a membership of more than thirty thousand in noncraft departments of newspapers, magazines, and other periodicals. The percentage of workers under union control in craft departments of these American publications is difficult to estimate; it’s safe to say it is increasing annually.
Whether or not a newspaper’s employees are represented by a trade union does not matter. Because of a trend in the past decade toward unification among unions, exemplified by the merger of the AFL and CIO, no newspaper can isolate itself from union influence, and it would be foolish for any publisher to think he could do so.
A publisher may officiate over a nonunion plant, for example, but chances are great that delivery of newsprint is handled by Teamster Union truckers. A newspaper tagged unfair by one union may find its paper supply brought to a sudden halt. If this occurs, the publisher must find other means of hauling newsprint, often at accelerated cost. Such pressures so magnify the expense of operation that a newspaper might find itself with a budget so overloaded that it cannot survive.
A publisher has no right to stay in business if he’s a poor business man, nor is there any moral restriction against those who provide a newspaper’s financing—the
subscribers and advertisers—from withdrawing their support if they choose. No one is forced to pay for a newspaper, or to read one, or to subscribe to its philosophy. In a free society, acceptance or rejection by the consumer of a product guides the maker of that product in its production. In this regard, a newspaper is no different from a factory producing shoes, toy balloons, or automobiles.
The "Right" To Sabotage
But when a labor union, with government sanction, can employ illegal or immoral means to prevent the distribution of a product—in this case a newspaper—it makes no difference whether a publisher is a good or bad businessman ; his rights have been trod upon.
Take the case of one
Work picked up immediately and the publisher filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board. Angered over this act, the printers called a strike and the paper was forced to shut down.
Unions Enjoy Special Privileges
If labor unionism enjoyed no legalized exemption from the laws which regulate business, or if it operated with other than collective force, then it could be properly categorized by a newspaper among its other competitors.
But such is not the case. Because both government, through laws, and courts, through decisions, have placed trade unions on a special pedestal, the competition they present is wholly unjustified. As
It is through this off-balance theory that labor bosses today can literally sit in an editor’s chair and, as it has been shown, dictate what shall and shall not be included in a newspaper’s columns. Is this any less an evil, or more justified, than direct censorship by a dictatorial government?
Consider for a moment what would happen if newspapers—all newspapers—became controlled by a single church. It’s safe to assume that readers would be allowed to read nothing contrary to the doctrine of this church. There would be no broad cross-section of religious ideas and opinions, as we find in the pages of our American newspapers today.
Or what would happen if the press became controlled by the Republican Party, or the Democratic Party, or the Socialist Party? We would find only Republican or Democratic or Socialist opinions, and nothing else.
Using this parallel, it becomes easy to visualize what would happen if our entire newspaper industry knuckled under the thumb of trade unionism. We would read only the type of material that today is printed in labor union-operated organs.
There would be no diversity of opinions that we have today in the American press. And the key to the strength of our press is individualism.
The indirect approach by labor unionism in the destruction of freedom in the newspaper industry is a subtle one.
Initiative Is Stifled
In my years of newspapering, it has become increasingly apparent that more than any other single factor, personal initiative on an editorial staff is the spark that keeps one newspaper’s star burning more brightly than its competitors. It is initiative that makes a reporter sniff behind every news handout. It is initiative that makes him refuse to accept anything at face value alone. It’s initiative that kindles competition and, in turn, provides a better product.
But whether initiative can rise above complacency in an atmosphere of unionism is open to speculation. Will a reporter, for example, remain as dedicated if given the alleged "security" of a collective bargaining agreement? Since unionism tends to destroy individualism, will he expend extra energy, knowing advancement depends not upon what he can produce but what the union, by its force, can "get" for him?
In industry, mechanical advances in an era of technology have to a large degree offset the narrowing margin of company profits brought about by union demands in many fields. But in the newspaper field, it still takes virtually as long to write a story, process a photograph, or prepare an ad, as it did ten or twenty years ago. The obvious alternative is to reduce staffs, devote less space to news which is time consuming to produce and adopt wider use of handouts and fewer features. Since a large percentage of handouts are produced by government information specialists in
Students Shun Newspaper Careers
A survey taken shortly before graduation time last June showed that the number of students in college schools of journalism destined for newspaper careers had dropped sharply from the year before. The total of journalism students was just as high, but graduates appeared to be eyeing careers in advertising, public relations, and related fields, while shunning city rooms in greater numbers. Educators were quick to theorize that the newspaper field is growing less attractive because salaries and other benefits have not kept pace with other American industries. Though this argument can be debated, it nevertheless represents widespread thinking.
My guess is that there are other reasons for the reluctance of our journalism-bent younger generation to enter the newspaper profession. It is a simple rule of human nature that as individuals we cannot be herded into categories like inanimate milling machines or turret lathes. In a field as demanding on creative talent as the newspaper field, those participating cannot be regimented into the columns of statistics that the theory of unionism demands.
Likewise, freedom cannot survive where the individual is regimented and initiative is restrained by a collection of rules and regulations.
If we insist on driving young creative talent from the newspaper field to other areas by allowing the philosophy of trade unionism to downgrade this profession, we may awake one day soon to find our morning paper vastly different. Its news columns will no longer be free, in the sense that we know freedom. They will contain stories carefully. slanted by union bosses to promote the ideas of collectivism and the advantages of a socialistic Welfare State.
A victory by the collectivists in the attack against our press, like the skirmish victories in
Authority Without Responsibility
H. E. Spitsbergen, Public Welfare And Labor Laws
The present unrestricted strike procedure represents a primitive aspect of civilization. It authorizes violence as a means of settling disputes. It implies that the relationship between capital and labor is such that disputes cannot be brought under the established methods of adjudication. It is based on the propaganda that the employer can be brought to heel only by threats of violence . . . Collective bargaining so enforced, transfers to irresponsible hands most important policies of industry and, consequently, the welfare of the nation. . . .
The labor leaders under congressional attack arc not peculiar men. They are the inevitable and unavoidable result of peculiar laws which grant excessive authority without adequate responsibility.