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You can count journalists among the proletariat now. Thanks to a highly unsuccessful four-year strike by six unions on Detroit's two daily newspapers, reporters have been reduced to expendable commodities like the teamsters and press operators with whom they continue to picket. Faced with massive cutbacks in their newsrooms, reporters broke with their employers in an attempt to maintain workplace solidarity and to ensure editorial quality in their publications. But in an age when newspapers are in a cost-cutting mode, as they are now, even union strength did not prove to be enough.
The Detroit News, which is owned by the Gannett Company, and the Detroit Free Press, which belongs to Knight-Ridder, continue to run separate news operations but have maintained joint business operations since 1989. Though their combined circulation has decreased by 24 percent (according to the companies) and they expect to lose over $100 million because of the strike, Gannett and Knight-Ridder won't give in to settlement even by arbitration. These are national newspaper chains; they are dedicated to serving up a profit-making product, much as McDonald's dishes out greased buns. People love it, but they've no idea of the impact of digesting such trash. A corporation has little allegiance to any particular city; its business exist solely for financial gain and care little if at all about the community they serve.
Such a sterile newspaper setup is probably the brainchild of some business school students who this weekend thoroughly enjoyed the "butter-flavored topping" on their large popcorn (it's the best buy) at the Ace Ventura sequel. These M.B.A.'s are getting better and better at increasing corporations' profits. Though the average Joe might think Gannett and Knight-Ridder are deep in the hole from such a loss, $100 million over four or so years just isn't that much money--especially when we consider the national implications of holding firm.
What goes for one of their newspaper businesses must go for all. So when Knight-Ridder told workers striking at its Philadelphia Daily News that it might shut down the tabloid, it had credibility. Nine out of 10 of that paper's striking unions reached tentative agreements with their corporate parent last week to reconcile huge downsizing. When corporations wield such cold power that they can unite with each other to face down their workers, you know that a capitalist conspiracy is in our midst.
Corporations in cahoots are able to face down even the most powerful unions. Despite the fact that the Newspaper Guild has been supported in its strike by the leadership of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., the Teamsters Union and the United Automobile Workers, its best efforts are failing. The result is that unions are banding together in order to upend their growing impotence. Combined operations reduce bureaucracy, increase membership and generate a greater revenue pool from which to draw members' benefits.
The Newspaper Guild itself merged with the Communication Workers of America on June 19. Ten days later, the International Ladies Garment Workers Union combined with the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers' Union to form UNITE. On July 3, the United Rubber Workers Union voted to combine with the United Steelworkers of America. On July 4, the National Education Association consolidated its presence in our nation's schools by absorbing the United Federation of Teachers. Does there seem to be a trend here?.
The new world economic order is based upon the corporation. The worker is at the hands of impersonal, transnational businesses. Union members who are fighting cutbacks instituted by these corporations are easily controlled or dismissed Journalists can safely be included among such workers after four years of trustless striking in Detroit. Now conservative opinion makers and politicians in their comfortable materialist world, can stop wondering about the derivation of media liberals.
Joshua A. Kaufman's column appear on alternate Monday's.
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