Monday, January 08, 2007

Roll The Union Over

The “L.A. Times” reported on Sunday that its press operators had voted to join the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Graphic Communications Conference.

Voted for a union, that is.

Those who don’t know the history of labor relations at the “L.A. Times” should understand it is a long-time bastion of anti-union sentiment, both in praxis and print.

This enmity probably predates Oct. 1, 1910, which is when it truly crystallized. Someone bombed the newspaper’s building and the “Times,” assuming the role of judge and jury trumpeted a headline that read: “Unionist Bombs Wreck The Times; Many Seriously Hurt.”

Harry Andrews, the managing editor wrote beneath the banner, “The elements that conspired to perpetrate this horror must not be permitted to pursue their awful campaign of intimidation and terror. Never will the Times cease in its warfare against them.”

Reactionary lore has it that the International Workers of the World, the “Wobblies,” were behind the violence.

Crazy anarcho-syndicalists.

Progressive lore has it that Los Angeles was on the verge of electing a socialist mayor and that the timing of the bombings was somewhat suspicious given the ensuing backlash against their team.

But enough of the past.

The Teamsters’ is big news, because the “Times” has been an open shop since...since forever. At least the scribe thought the building's anti-union bulwark had never beenn breached.

But James Rainey’s piece informed that the Teamsters got in once before in 1967, only to be thrown out two years later.

“We finally got ‘em! It took 40 years,” the union’s lead organizer, Marty Keegan, told the reporter.

It’s not always a good idea to derive larger lessons from a family squabble like the one which led to the union’s nine-vote victory (140-131), but the scribe would suggest that this time, it is.

There is a bigger story here, which you won’t read much about in the pages of the big boya. And that is that things are turning, that we are entering an age of progressive push around the world as new classes, formed and then beaten down by 15 years of globalization, formulate an agenda and act upon that agenda.

The "Times," you know, was converted from the privately run feud of the Chandler family - the Los Angeles Chandlers - to a dancing bear for the stockholders of the midwest Tribune Company.

Like just about every other dinosaur, the "Times" was caught off-guard by Internet-wrought changes in the news delivery market and the whole crazy daisywheel of electronic technologies you can fit in your shirt-pocket.

So despite the fact it was winning more Pulitzer Prizes than ever in the paper's history, the Tribune company responded with, to put it mildly, a thinning of the "Times" workforce; reporters included.

A guy named Carroll, who always rejected the scribe's annual request for employ at the behemoth with grace and gentle candor, long ago walked away from the top editor's job. After him, another guy, Bacquet, if memory serves, also fell on his sword rather than agree to firing more reporters. And then the guy above him, too (or something like that).

The "Times" piece is pretty well-hidden in the seven-pound brick that is its Sunday edition. The editors opted to cover the union victory in their house through gritted teet and noted that a journeyman press operator makes $61,000 a year.

That’s a good and fair salary a small family could get by on, even advance under certain, other fortuitous circumstances. It’s the kind of job union guys and girls could find across America in its post-war, manufacturing hedyay, and it’s the kind of job that is hard to come by anymore.

The pressman got the hint from what was going on around them. “Keegan [the organizer] said Times’ pressroom workers appeared to be most concerned about job security in a time of retrenchment for the newspaper industry. They also hope for better benefits and wages...”

So they joined the union crowd.

Hopefully it is a harbinger of things to come. Unions – when they’re run right – bring wages up, protect workers from arbitrary employer actions against them, and lead to safer, happier working places.

The Teamsters are no Wobblies and certainly not syndicalists of the anarchist type. They are a strange hybrid, a kind of right-wing union. But they have big chestnuts and do industrial warfare better than some of their more progressive and democratic union brethren.

And for that, highwayscribery dedicates today’s post to the Teamsters Union and its newest members.

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