Why I Returned to My Job
JUNE 01, 1960 by W. L. HUNTER
Editor’s Note: Refusal by the Stereotypers Union to bargain on key issues led to strike action on November 10, 1959, against the daily newspapers of Portland, Oregon. Subsequently, several members of the Portland Newspaper Guild defied union leaders and returned to their jobs. Among them was W. L. (Larry) Hunter, a copyreader for the Oregon Journal for more than 15 years. His explanation—along with others—was published jointly by The Oregonian and Oregon Journal in a special issue of "Strike Facts."
It is more difficult for me to explain why I waited so long to return to work—five weeks—than to tell why I returned. However, it boils down to conformity. One dislikes to be set apart from his fellows, even if he thinks they are wrong, however earnestly.
Although I voted against strike at every opportunity and made my position clear to fellow union members by speaking in meetings and out against the strike, I delayed my return, hoping every day that my union would see things more clearly, would return as a group—or at least make an offer to do so.
When it became obvious that no such course would be followed, I determined to act as an individual. Naturally, I was pleased that several others had acted in concert.
In the first place, I never thought the strike had valid reasons. Having decided that, I could hardly think it right for my union to back the dissidents, purely on the premise that, unless we did, we could expect no reciprocal aid at some later time when we might want to strike, perish the thought.
In the second place, it took only a day or two of publication to prove to all concerned that the strike was a strategic failure. A strike is to shut something down. This one never did. While it is wonderful to be right, it is no disgrace to be wrong—provided one is intelligent enough to admit it, and act to right the wrong.
From a personal standpoint I considered the two sides. On one hand I had loyalty to my family, to my contracts with creditors, to my union’s contract with my employers, to my own personal welfare, and to my employers, who had always been kind and in addition—through a period of my bad health—had been generous to the point that I was ashamed of myself for being aligned against them.
On the other hand, I was faced by the preachments of unionism, that one must always be loyal to all other members of his union, and to all other unions, even though he hardly knows many of the individuals, does not know others at all, thoroughly disagrees with many, and opposes the principles for which many of them stand.
I could not quite swallow the premise that my always friendly employers—now known with some mysterious opprobrium as "management"—had suddenly become an ogre, and, on the other hand, anybody carrying any union card automatically was a plaster saint.
False Propaganda Spread
The transparent falseness of union propaganda was during the strike and now, embarrassing to me. The other day a college boy of my acquaintance said to me, "Well, one thing you’ll have to admit is that the Guild got vacations for you."
What rot! Somebody told him that and he believed it. But we had vacations before there ever was a vote on the American Newspaper Guild by any Journal employee. Granted: Negotiations have figured in obtaining a third week of vacation.
The unions condemn management for strike insurance (if it exists) but point with pride to their own half-billion-dollar war fund for the purpose of sustaining strikes.
How is it fair for one, and not for the other?
Unions gladly accept the fruits of inflation, pay raises, benefits of all sorts, but refuse to take any of the blame for inflation.
In this strike, particularly, the unions have put on an intensive campaign to damage the reputation and circulation of the newspapers, yet they say they want to return to work in those plants.
The union press trumpets about the neighborliness of the men out on strike, while some of those same men and their representatives are spitting at workers, knocking them down, kicking them while they are down, and calling them names.
I wear a hearing aid. One woman sympathizer of the strike, in the presence of some of my erstwhile friends, thrust her face into mine at the door of The Oregonian plant and told me that she hoped I lost the hearing in my other ear.
He’s Not "Imported"
Mind you, I’m no "imported strikebreaker." I’ve worked for the Oregon Journal since March 8, 1944. Since 1948 I’ve been a home owner, always at the same Northeast Portland address. I’ve paid my bills, most of them nearly on time.
Union men tried to dissuade me from returning to work. They said they had worked in nonunion plants elsewhere and had been mistreated. Perhaps so. But any of them who says he or his union was mistreated in The Journal plant simply is not telling the truth.
There is leeway on time off, on days off, on hours of schedule, and on other factors of Journal employment that would make half the other workmen in Portland green with envy, union or nonunion.
I found that, while staying out on strike was painted with a glow of courage, it actually was smudged with fear. First, there was fear my union would be denied support of other unions unless it backed all other unions in a strike. Second, there was fear the act of striking had alienated the employers to the point where union members could not expect jobs or anything else but abuse unless the strike was fought to a bitter end. I simply did not believe that.
I called a representative of my employer and found that I was right. I was welcomed back to work, as would have been as many others as could have been used in the emergency operation that had been forced upon management by the strike.
I decided this strike was no mere incident in a series of bluff and-yield labor negotiations. It seemed to me historic. Management had been pushed to the point where it could afford to yield no further. Whether I like it or not, I am in an economic circumstance where I must work for a living. It was a case of a very real job or a dubious union theory.
Strike Is "Suicidal"
Naturally, I regret that more of the workers have not returned. Some of them are fine craftsmen. I hate to see many of them jeopardize their jobs and lose their footholds in a community which some of them undoubtedly love as much as I do.
But I could go along no further in a suicidal denial of responsibility. While I respect the history of unions and grant that some (but only some) of the benefits I now enjoy are due to union negotiation, I cannot accept unionism as a creed, something to be worshipped.
I cannot close my eyes to the fact that there would be nothing to negotiate, if it were not for management’s investment that makes jobs possible.
It seems strange to me that in
America we are permitted to choose our own church, or abstain from religion if we so desire; we can pass freely across the borders of municipalities or states without permission; but we cannot cross a picket line established arbitrarily by a union.
We can vote for any candidate for public office whom we favor or belong to any political party without question, but we are expected to subscribe to pre-ordained union principles and pay tribute to them if we want to work.
I object to that. And I work to sustain my objections.
I want to urge devotion to the fundamentals of human liberty—the principles of voluntarism. No lasting gain has ever come from compulsion. If we seek to force, we but tear apart that which, united, is invincible…
Samuel Gompers, first President of the AFL, and Father of the American labor movement, in his speech to the 1924 Annual Convention of the AFL
I do not believe in forcing a man to join a union. If he wants to join, all right; but it is contrary to the principles of free government and the Constitution of the
WARREN S. STONE, former Grand Chief Engineer. Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers