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Strike while the iron's hot!
As the Writers Guild of America strike shakes up the movie and television industry, some are wondering what they'll do without Jay Leno, others are asking why there's no more Heroes in this land, and still others want to know what the famously union-hostile L.A. Times has had to say about all this over the years. The paper began life as a proud defender of the open shop, enduring a deadly bombing by union organizers in 1910; then, under Publisher Otis Chandler, the Times drastically softened its stance beginning in 1960. Today's editorial board has already done some thinking about the issues in the current WGA walkout and will be watching developments. Meanwhile, it's instructive to look back over the history of Times attitudes toward striking miners, ball players, classical musicians and even movie people.
Back on March 8, 1900, the ed board poured hot molten contempt on striking Chicago sheet metal workers:
CHICAGO LABOR STRIKES.
There was little or no excuse for this strike. The men were receiving good wages, employment was plenty, and all classes of business were prosperous. But of course the walking delegates must have some chance to make a bluff, occasionally, at earning their salaries, otherwise the misguided men who support them in comparative idleness might rebel and deprive them of their easy means of livelihood. Hence the strike, the loss of employment, and the demoralization of business in certain industries.
Later that year, the Times expanded on the same theme. October 18, 1900:
WORKING THE WORKING MAN.
How long will presumably intelligent laboring men in this country of general education and enlightenment continue to permit themselves to be made the tools of designing demagogues, and to run after false gods? [
] [T]he workingmen who work continue to permit themselves to be led around and bamboozled by the labor leaders who do not labor. How is it that a class of men who admittedly lead the world in intelligence and skill can permit themselves to be thus hoodwinked, when their personal interests are concerned?
If you think of Teddy Roosevelt as a model for progressive politics, the Times on September 7, 1910 saw something different to admire in the former president:
ROOSEVELT ON LABOR UNIONS.
If the labor unions would discard from leadership the cowardly, murder-inciting, corpse-defacing bullies and their more cowardly yellow editorial backers, who have for months been engaged in futile efforts to bulldoze the Los Angeles employers into an abandonment of the open-shop policy, they would illustrate their tardy wisdom. If they would follow the advice of Roosevelt and discard boycotting of employers, and insulting and slugging non-union men; if they would promptly expel from their ranks the disorderly ruffians who disgrace the cause of honest labor, they would be entitled to the sympathy and support of the community in their endeavor by lawful methods to better their condition.
And as an extraordinarily violent coal strike rocked the Centennial State on June 18, 1914, the ed board engaged in the (now lamentably abandoned) practice of calling for the prosecution of fellow journalists:
THE JOURNALISTIC CRIMINAL.
Among the few publications that have attempted to make capital out of the Colorado strike by a hysterical and malevolent distortion of facts, Harper's Weekly has been the belled buzzard of the flock. It has lied about the strikers and has lied about the mine operators; it has not sought facts, but has sought to establish the strikers as martyrs and the operators as diabolical slave-drivers. In this deliberate policy of misrepresentation, Norman Hapgood, who designates himself as the editor of Harper's Weekly, and in doing so evinces that he is immune to shame, has been the most assiduous literary liar in the nation; he has vindicated the murders of the strikers by joining in their cry against the mine owners; he has encouraged sedition and written on behalf of anarchy.
The 20th century rolled on, but age could not wither nor custom stale the Times' infinite variety of invective against labor bosses (and the strange habit of complimenting the intelligence of the workers themselves). May 4, 1919:
THE SHIPYARDS STRIKE.
Seldom has the shortsightedness and utter selfishness of the bosses of the labor unions been more obviously exemplified than in Saturday's harbor strike. Several thousand men were idle and receiving no pay who but two days ago were regularly employed and were receiving higher average wages than were ever before gained by workmen of their crafts in times of peace.
Hours and wages did not enter into the dispute. These thousands of intelligent workmen have permitted themselves to be deluded by paid walking delegates form other sections of the country into a belief that the principle of home rule in settling labor questions is wrong, that they are not capable of conferring themselves with their employers, but must have outside men who toil not, neither do they spin, and yet receive double pay to do their conferring for them.
A clue to the Times' attitude toward unions its genuine belief that open shops made Los Angeles great can be found in this editorial from December 2, 1923:
GOMPERS DECLARES WAR.
As The Times has pointed out many times during the years, the growth of this city has been due in large measure to the fact the union leaders attempted to destroy it by calling it a "scab city."
To their dismay they found that the best workmen in the country were attracted here to the "scab city" where they could sell their skill and industry as they saw fit. It offered a haven not only to persecuted non-union men, but the very best type of union men who were sick and tired of paying toll for "fighting funds" to keep their own jobs in a state of roil and disturbance and equally sick of the petty tyrannies of union rule.
That belief got an even more thorough workout in the following decade, as the ed board compared the Southland to that great city to the north. November 3, 1935:
THE PLIGHT OF SAN FRANCISCO.
Many now living can recall when San Francisco was the industrial capital, as well as the metropolis of the West, so far ahead of Los Angeles in manufactures and commerce that our efforts to compete were to her merely mildly humorous. She had everything it takes to make a great center of industry save a free labor market; comparatively speaking, Los Angeles had nothing save a free labor market. But, in spite of the northern city's tremendous start, open-shop Los Angeles, building from zero, has so far outstripped closed-shop San Francisco in number of industries, industrial investments, pay rolls and factory output as to much more than reverse the relative standings of the two cities at the turn of the century. Similarly noteworthy in this connection is the fact that open shop work in Los Angeles is consistently better paid, is far freer from interruptions and is more efficient that closed shop work in San Francisco, as officially attested by the Federal Census of Manufactures over a period of many years.
Nothing could better illustrate the moron character of the closed-shop theory as one to benefit the rank and file of union labor. According to the San Francisco Junior Chamber of Commerce, the withdrawal of the United Fruit Company business alone cost Bay City shipyard workers a total of 5300 days' employment in the first few weeks. The cost in wages to its members of the longshoremen's union's periodic and idiotic refusals to abide by its own agreements has been staggering. The direct loss to San Francisco of last year's dock war and so-called general strike has been estimated at $50,000,000; its actual and continuing loss is vastly greater.
On July 11, 1914, the paper lent its support to Walt Disney himself as Walt battled the Little Red Henskis of his day:
Resourceful Mickey Mouse himself would be at a loss in a predicament such as that in which the Screen Cartoon Guild has been placed as the result of the complete abandonment by nine other formerly sympathetic A.F.L. unions of all pretense of aid in connection with its two-month-old strike against the Walt Disney studio. The guild demonstration at producing plant and theaters showing the antics of the Disney menagerie has become, in effect, an "outlaw" affair. [
The guild certainly can't expect much commiseration as a holdout from a public aware that members of its fellow unions have seen fit to go back to work on acceptable terms.
On October 9, 1942, the Times cut through the conciliatory wartime speeches of federal leaders to condemn work stoppages as disloyalty:
The Cancer Has Only Spread a Little
In his address to the A.F.L. convention at Toronto on Wednesday, Undersecretary of War Patterson said that our war-production job 'will require that there will be no deviations from the pledges patriotically given by the leaders of labor that there will be no strikes or stoppages; in it. He added that "strikes are few and far between now."
Strikes in war industries alone which have averaged more than four a day for eight months, with a direct aggregate loss of production of 11,000,000 man hours and indirect ones of probably as many more, may be Mr. Patterson's idea of "few and far between." But they will hardly impress the body of patriotic Americans as negligible.
In the postwar era, Hollywood felt the effects of a strike, and the ed board didn't like it. January 24, 1947:
Time to Settle the Film Strike
It is high time steps were taken by somebody to settle Hollywood jurisdictional quarrel between the Conference of Studio Unions and the International Association of Theatrical State Employees and get several thousand suffering victims back to work. Fundamentally, it is an internal affair of the American Federation of Labor and ought to be settled by that organization. But the A.F.L. will not or cannot clean its own house, so somebody else will have to step in.
The C.S.U. men have been out of work all winter. They have obviously and definitely lost their strike, and, while they are still continuing some picketing activity, have not been able seriously to interfere with the operations of the studios. There need be no sympathy for the leaders whose obstinacy precipitated the strike; but the rank and file must be having a hard time making ends meet.
By August 5, 1954, the Times was condemning a strike by members of a profession that hadn't even existed when the paper launched its first offensive against organized labor:
Pilot Strike Seems Unjustified
The current strike of the pilots against the American Airlines is probably the least justified strike that has been called in recent years. The position of the pilots would seem unreasonable and against the public interest.
It is a strike over 35 minutes of flying time five days a month.
By January 3, 1959, the paper's language was more temperate than it had been in earlier decades, but the animus remained:
The Food Strike Is On
The strike of the Retail Clerks Union against the major food chains is one that could and should have been avoided. It illustrated the union's implacable demands for unrealistic increases and their persistent efforts to invade the area of employer prerogative.
No amount of maneuvering by the union should deceive the public about who is to blame for this strike.
That, however, was a last gasp of the paper's classical anti-union period. This editorial from April 23, 1965 seems to come out in favor of private-sector labor actions, but stakes out a position against strikes by public-sector unions:
No Strikes Against the Public
Although the economic effects may be deplored, as in a steel walkout, the right to strike is a basic and legitimate element of the collective bargaining process in private industry.
There is, however, no right to strike against the public. The interruption of essential governmental services dare not be used as a bargaining weapon.
By November 12, 1977, the ed board had honed its public/private union dichotomy in stemwinders like this one:
THE RIGHT TO STRIKE: A PUBLIC ISSUE
In private industry, if a supplier of goods or services is closed down by a strike, the public is generally able to turn to other outlets. But the government is a monopoly. Consequently, there is no one to turn to when those who are supposed to uphold the public trust abandon their responsibilities.
All citizens have a basic right to expect and receive uninterrupted public services such as police and fire protection. Yet taxpayers have experienced the brutality of a fire burning a home to the ground
raw sewage being dumped into a pay
a major crime being committed and the police not responding
public schools being closed
and trash piling up in the streets without collection. Why? Because unthinking public employees paid to serve the public went on strike to enforce their demands.
That principle got its strongest test when air traffic controllers walked off the job, an action the paper lamented on August 6, 1981:
Flying Into Rough Weather
The federal government and thousands of air traffic controllers passed that point [of "no return"] Wednesday when most striking controllers refused to meet President Reagan's deadline for returning to work.
The government responded by firing controllers who stayed off the job, jailing some leaders of the controllers' union and moving to dismantle the union.
Between them, they have charted a course as dangerous and self-destructive, irrational and blindly stubborn as any in recent labor history. They have set in motion forces that will hurt airlines and the economy generally, and leave a long trail of bitterness.
Most controllers walking picket lines Wednesday still apparently would rather give up their careers than give in to the government. The Reagan Administration apparently would rather spend years rebuilding an air traffic control system than talk with men and women who have broken a law that forbids federal workers to strike.
Even when wealthy ballplayers were threatening to leave the nation without its national pastime, the Times could no longer muster a full-throated pro-management rant. July 26, 1985:
A Strike Would Be No Ball
Industrial relations are one thing, and baseball is another at least in the minds of baseball fans. The current dispute between the owners and the players revolves around money (natch), with each side wanting more at the expense of the other. The owners say that they are losing a bundle, and the players say that they are not. Who's right is anybody's guess. The root of the problem is that baseball has still not settled down from the 1975 arbitrator's ruling that freed the players to move from team to team, leading to astronomical salary increases.
There is a solution to the current impasse, and it rests in the hands of the new and gutsy baseball commissioner, Peter V. Ueberroth, who has shown a remarkable willingness to act independently of the owners. When major-league umpires went on strike at the end of last season, Ueberroth, who had just assumed the helm, stepped in as arbitrator and imposed a settlement. He could do the same thing now.
Ueberroth's charge as commissioner is to act in the best interest of the game. The fans want baseball. Ueberroth can give it to them.
Passing entirely on the opportunity to weigh in on WGA strike of 1988, the Times again confined itself to commenting on a public sector strike on May 17, 1989
The Strike Must Be Settled
By letting the current dispute reach a strike point, the Los Angeles school board has forced the teachers' union to stand firm on its demands, not only for higher pay but also for a greater role in school decisions. By striking, the United Teachers-Los Angeles union has forced some members of a divided school board to dig in their heels against increasing a pay offer that they already think is too high. [...]
This has indeed gone too far, as one first-grader said Monday. The strike must be resolved soon so that the regular school year does not end in an even more uncertain way than it began. Union members have been teaching without a contract all year. They deserve higher pay.
On January 11, 1992, the ed board sang a perfectly pusillanimous high-C when San Diego Opera managed to save Strauss:
The Show Must Go On
The loss of San Diego's major classical music source for several months was a sad chapter in the area's cultural history one that it would be wise for both the opera and the musicians to keep in mind as they continue at the bargaining table.
For the musicians, the lessons are fairly direct. A strike means the loss of jobs and pay, and many of their opportunities to play.
The lessons for the San Diego Opera extend beyond the immediate financial blow of having to refund $600,000 in tickets and the loss of the $892,000 it has invested in the production. The cancellation of "Der Rosenkavalier," the season opener, could have shaken community confidence in the San Diego Opera, making it tougher to sell tickets and attract donors. [...]
Maybe the brief crisis in the negotiations will make both sides more conciliatory in the rest of the negotiations, and a new contract will be reached without further threats to performances.
When UPS settled with its high-profile drivers strike, the ed board noted an important trend: That even a friendlier L.A. Times couldn't keep organized labor from slow death. August 20, 1997:
Big Noise of UPS Strike May Not Have a Long-Lived Echo: Atypical factors involved could limit its effect on U.S. labor
Who won? Labor characterized itself as victorious. The company said it got what it needed. For now, the Teamsters are feeling refreshed and emboldened, having staged a strike well calculated to appeal to a broad spectrum of workers and to shore up the union's tarnished image. But it is premature to portray the settlement as a watershed event for the labor movement after years of declining membership and clout. [...]
Few unions could muster both the power and public relations savvy to carry off a successful strike against a large and familiar company like UPS. The last time a strike drew large-scale national attention was the air traffic controllers' disastrous standoff in 1981 with President Ronald Reagan. The failed strike of the United Auto Workers two years ago at Caterpillar Inc. was a major setback for labor. [...]
But whether the big noise is ultimately labor's new big bang in a nation with only 14.5% union membership in the work force, down from more than 35% in 1945 near the end of labor's heyday--is far from certain.
And two years ago, the ed board was praising the pro-labor mayor's intervention in terms that must surely be tormenting the souls of union-bashing ed boards of the past. April 12, 2006:
Safe, secure and unionized
A BUSINESS OWNER'S DECISION to recognize a labor union is almost always a private matter. But if those employees happen to be responsible for the safety and security of the tens of thousands of people who daily go to work or do business in or near high-rise office towers, then that decision is important to all of us and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's intervention is justified. [...]
It was [real estate entrepreneur Robert] Maguire who six years ago broke through the acrimony between building owners and janitors with his backing of the "Justice for Janitors" campaign, putting pressure on other property owners who quickly fell in line. For the last several years, though, Maguire rejected efforts by the same union to organize security officers, arguing that it's a bad idea for unionized guards to leave their posts when a building's janitors go out on strike.
Leave it to Villaraigosa to put the two sides together to work out their differences by agreeing to a new security-only union. This is exactly the kind of behind-the-scenes brokering that voters believed Villaraigosa, with his labor background and his big-business supporters, could deliver.