News to Workers: Drop Dead

By Ken Ficara

It wasn't my favorite paper in the city, but no other paper deserved the slogan "New York's Hometown Paper" like the Daily News. It was as much a part of New York City as the subways where you so frequently saw people reading it. The News was a great paper; it is sad to see it destroyed by out-of-towners on an anti-union vendetta. What a shameful end.

Yes, I'm speaking in the past tense. The News is dead. If by some chance it manages to continue with "replacement workers," it will be a different paper, a symbol of utter contempt for the working people who have always been the core of its readership. But the unions will probably succeed in shutting it down; it will become another metropolitan newspaper fatality. There was a great deal of pride for New York City in being a four-paper town. No longer.

Thanks a lot, James Hoge. Let's all thank the imported publisher, the front man for the Chicago-based Tribune Company, owner of the News. Thanks for coming in and destroying our paper. One of this city's greatest institutions is being destroyed by an out-of-town corporation, and we worry about the Japanese buying real estate??

The News would have us believe it's the unions' fault. We're told about the high cost of labor, foreign competition, unreasonable pay rates, loafing workers, etcetera. The unions' fault? These same unions negotiated concessions with the New York Post that were so sweeping they made nationwide news. The difference is in the attitude of management. The Post was straightforward and honest about its financial situation and what had to be done, and worked constructively with its unions to reach an agreement. The News has been equally straightforward about its intention to destroy the unions. What happened at the Post gives the lie to the News' attempt to blame this situation on its workers.

The News has spent a fortune hiring the best union-busting lawyers in the country, training and bussing in replacement workers, and hiring armies of security guards. What might have happened if that money and effort had been focused on working out an agreement with their workers that would have kept the newspaper alive?

The unions have endured the News' provocations for months, unwilling to strike for fear of exactly what has happened. When the News finally succeeded in provoking a strike, it acted surprised, but the replacements were at printing plants almost immediately. The News was ready. It got what it wanted.

The saddest part of this whole story is that many people in the city just don't care, or feel the unions are getting what they deserved. New Yorkers who have been inured to years of union corruption scandals and Ed Koch's Attila-the-Hun labor policies, don't remember why we have unions. Stories like the Pittston coal strike or the Hammerhill paper strike don't play too well here; most Brownstone Brooklyn liberals may feel an abstract sympathy with Cesar Chavez or Woody Guthrie, but they work white-collar, largely non-union jobs, and have no connection whatsoever to the world of those News workers. Most of them don't even read the News.

We who are in our 20s and 30s have no memory of what it was like before unions. We take completely for granted things that people not very long ago literally gave up their lives for. And we're letting those achievements slip away.

Of course, the unions are not selfless champions of the working class. Labor struggles in the real world aren't as clear-cut as they are in Joan Baez songs. The striking union members are mostly white males; the replacement workers at whom they're throwing bricks are largely people of color and women. Racism is a factor here; the construction industry isn't the only place where unions sometimes serve as a segregation tool.

But that doesn't make what the News is doing any better. Does anyone actually believe the News is trying to integrate its workplace? Those replacement workers are being brought in because they can be exploited more efficiently than the union members could. And I'm sure those replacements aren't scabbing because they want to see the unions broken. The majority are unemployed, they have families to feed, and the prospect of decent wages and health benefits was probably damned hard to turn down. Not many of us would have stood on principle were we as desperate.

And the News is cynically using that desperation for its own selfish ends. It's not Hoge or his big-shot union-busting lawyers who are going to get their faces sewn up after being hit by a brick or flying glass. They're using these people in their fight against the unions, using one group of working people to beat down another, with no regard at all for what happens to any of those people.

I don't want to see New York City lose one of its great traditions. I am always upset at the closing of a newspaper; it is a death, the loss of a voice, one more brick in the wall of the corporate media monopoly. But I would rather see that happen than to see the News succeed in its campaign against the very people that made it a success. And I think we New Yorkers owe it to ourselves and our city not to let them get away with it.