Unity and solidarity are what count for workers.
If there ever was an
example of persistence, and there have been a few of them in the annals of
labor, it has to be the reporters and workers at the Dayton Daily News,
as their union reported that they have signed a contract after 26 years.
That’s not a typo. They
have worked without a contract for 26 years and were able to do so because a
number of conditions of the old contract were adhered to by both the company
and the union, The Newspaper Guild-Communications Workers of America.
Other newspaper contracts
have been left open for years in the past, but this one appeared to be a
record-setter. A one-year agreement was ratified in midsummer and the local
celebrated its victory with champagne.
During the years,
bargaining sessions were started, and then faded away. The company asked for
concessions that it knew the Guild could not accept. And it went on that way,
until the years piled up. - as the international level pointed out in the fall
issue of The Guild Reporter, there was some structure to working under
an expired contract, such as a grievance procedure, up to 46 weeks of severance
pay, and seniority in layoffs.
Although the duration of
the lack of a contract for the Dayton
workers is unusual, it is not unusual for newspapers to work under an expired
contract, with agreement by both sides that the terms and conditions do not change for the period of continued negotiations. And,
that’s what they did in Dayton.
In fact, the local grew somewhat in numbers during the past two decades and
there are some workers who are at other properties of the company in the same
area who are not unionized. The local promises not to rest until all those
workers are under a union contract.
Hope for a new contract
kept the members of the Dayton
local together, but they attributed that to one main characteristic:
solidarity. They took care of each other and continued to build the union and,
through that, they learned well what it means to be united and a unified force
in the workplace.
All the workers could do was look on in silence.
The union members did not
strike and the employer, Cox Media Group, did not lock them out. There have
been few lockouts of note in the newspaper business and the workers were not
inclined to strike. Looking back over 26 years, at least one of the reasons the
workers did not strike was that this was the time that the worst anti-union
activity of the Reagan years was kicking into high gear. Those two terms of
Reagan’s presidency were the early years of the assault on workers that we see
today among Right Wing politicians, particularly the Republicans, and Corporate
America, in general.
Throughout this period,
economy was changing, and not for the better. It was a time when President Bill
Clinton, ripping a page out of the Republican playbook, embraced “free trade”
as one of his signature issues. The policy was anything but free for the
workers of the nation, although it was free for every other element of the
economy. Goods and manufacturing materiel flowed freely among the nations of
the free trade partnerships. Money and financing flowed freely. Protection of
corporate investments in foreign nations came in the form of World Bank and
International Monetary Fund guarantees, the U.S. State Department geared up to
help and even the military was available to do the bidding of Corporate
Workers could not move
from one country to another. All they could do was watch, usually in silence,
as their plants were moved to low-wage countries and, in many cases, even the
machines they worked on were moved to new locations, in some other nation. All
they could do was look on in silence.
Newspaper reporters and
editors were certain that their jobs could not be moved elsewhere, because what
they wrote about and reported on was happening right where their paper was
located. How could anyone cover local beats from a low-wage country? They did
feel somewhat secure in that, at least for a time. Now, of course, we know that
it is possible to farm out some of the work (at least, for local papers) to
English-speaking persons, working at low wages, in some other country. India readily comes
It was the atmosphere in
that was affecting all workers. Since the firing of the air traffic controllers
in 1981, even unionized workers were becoming more fearful of disrupting their
working lives in any way, and that was the beginning of the decline of strikes
Strikes always have been the action of last resort on the part of union
workers, but strikes have been made the highly charged aspect of unionization
that the Right Wing has used to instill fear in the hearts and minds of
non-union workers, those who most desperately need a union.
Employers in the U.S.,
after the destruction of the air traffic controllers union, became more and
more aggressive in their suppression of workers’ right to form unions, no
matter that it was a right protected by federal law. The animus against workers
and their unions has grown to this day, until the unexpected (for most people)
assault against public workers in Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, and other states. Even
in states with high “union density,” which are few, government officials went
after the rights of their public workers. And, if the attacks were not overt,
many politicians stood by and watched, as the more vicious among them went after
concessions in pay, health care, and pensions, and after the right to
collectively bargain, the heart of any union local.
This was the atmosphere in
during the years of struggle of the Dayton Daily News workers and, because it
is not easy to replace so many skilled workers at one time, the paper did not
want to risk locking them out.
As a result, the workers
of the Dayton Guild local hung on, making do with what was left of their
contract for 26 long years. Ultimately, they have been able to celebrate a new,
signed contract and they look forward to negotiating contracts for the other
workers in “news properties” that are owned by the same employer.
The message in all of this
is that unity and solidarity are what count for workers, along with the support
of other workers in unions who simply know that “an injury to one is an injury
to all,” and, by the same principle, when one group of workers wins, all
final message? Never give up!
BlackCommentator.com Columnist, John Funiciello,
is a long-time former newspaper reporter and labor organizer, who lives in the Mohawk Valley
of New York
State. In addition to labor work, he is organizing family farmers as they
struggle to stay on the land under enormous pressure from factory food
producers and land developers. Click
here to contact Mr. Funiciello.