Freeman

ARTICLE

Union Coercion and Your Newspaper

APRIL 01, 1959 by JOSEPH E. BROWN

Mr. Brown is Managing Editor of the Burbank (California) Daily Review.

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 New York last December, this truism was proved once again in a strike which for three weeks stopped the presses of nine major daily newspapers with a combined circulation of over six million.

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 New York metropolitan area paid a price.

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 New York‘s sixteen thousand newsstands were forced to close, throwing many dealers temporarily out of work. The nine struck newspapers them­selves lost an estimated twenty-five million dollars in advertising and circulation revenue. Employee pay losses totaled more than five million dollars. Hundreds of busi­nesses, dependent upon news­paper advertising—resort hotels, theaters, restaurants, auto dealer­ships, real estate agencies, em­ployment bureaus—felt a serious crimp in their income.

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 New York newspaper industry’s total employee force. Of the news handler’s union membership, only 19 per cent had voted to strike (887 for and 772 against), and this voting majority—a meager 105 of the city’s eight million citi­zens—brought about a tie-up which ultimately cost an estimated fifty million dollars.

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 New York strike received wide notice across the country and its cold, hard facts were driven home. Not all, however, realize the in­roads made by trade unionism in the past few years in the news­paper industry, a trend which to­day threatens to squeeze our press into such a pattern of standardi­zation that its effectiveness may soon be seriously impaired.

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 Washington, state capitals, and city halls, obscuring the people’s right to know under an innocuous guise of "security." Another is pressure from state legislatures and city governments in the form of heavy business li­cense fees on newspapers, taxes on advertising, and, in some re­mote cases, even direct censorship.

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 New York are, in fact, considered perfectly legal and moral, and are blessed by the courts.

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 United States were forced to suspend publication for various lengths of time up to 66 days, and many others published under ad­verse conditions brought about by labor tension. Among newspapers which enjoyed immunity from such economic attacks during the year, many suffered narrowing margins of profit by constantly in­creasing demands for higher wages, increased fringe benefits, and the like. When a newspaper’s budget is pinched, invariably the reader is the one who must suffer by receiving a poorer product, or by paying a higher price.

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 United States had a combined to­tal daily average circulation of more than 57,000,000—more than any other communications me­dium.

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 Lima (Ohio) News, one of eleven publications in Freedom Newspapers, Inc., of Santa Ana, California, of which Mr. R. C. Hoiles is founder and co-publisher. Those familiar with Mr. Hoiles’ lifelong fight against collectivism can well imagine what happened in Lima when unionism turned its collective fury against him. The fact that the Lima News survived one of the most bitter union attacks ever di­rected against an American news­paper is past history and, while a credit to those who put principle before personal gain and "got the paper out," has little bearing here.

The point is that the Lima situ­ation—like the more recent New York strike—brought into focus a relatively recent weapon which has shaped up against the news­paper industry and other indus­tries, namely, collective, economic warfare.

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 California weekly newspaper during the last national election campaign. Exer­cising his right guaranteed by the Constitution, the publisher wrote a series of editorials favoring a "right to work" voluntary union­ism measure appearing on the up­coming California ballot. The measure was, obviously, bitterly fought by the California labor union movement, and the editori­als became increasingly distaste­ful to the newspaper’s union printers whose job it was to set them in type. So they slowed down in work, went home "sick," or didn’t show up for work at all. Finally the publisher, sensing the reason, toned down his editorials and then dropped them altogether.

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 Indianapolis newspaperman Walter Leckrone pointed out re­cently, the American trade union movement enjoys numerous liber­ties and exemptions which are de­nied to business. Early labor law was predicated on the theory that management carried a big finan­cial stick and thus should be held in check, while the then scattered unions were in a poor position to properly represent their members without "protection" by law. De­spite the fact that this theory has long since been disproved, its application nevertheless still remains.

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 Washington, state capitals, and city halls, it is apparent the pub­lic will be getting more and more doctored information rather than news objectively prepared.

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 New York and Lima, would be a sad day indeed.

  ***

Ideas on Liberty

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.

ASSOCIATED ISSUE

April 1959

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