The Real Strike Paper
Which Side Is the Union On?
Thiel told us he didn't want it to look like the union was going negative, and he knew people would assume the scab list was provided by the union. When we told Thiel we were going ahead with the article, he implored us to include a line explaining that the guild didn't play a role in providing the names. When we told him that, in fact, guild sources had helped us with the article, and we were reporting as much, he urged us to report that guild officials didn't cooperate or condone the article. Sheesh, is this one scaredy-cat union or what?
For example, late last week, after mediators announced that a new round of negotiations was in the works (negotiations that would fail because management wouldn't budge), the union heeded P-I editor and publisher Roger Oglesby's call for "good faith" bargaining and immediately suspended its promotion of a Seattle Times/Seattle Post-Intelligencer boycott.
However, for the best evidence of the guild's timidity, just check out the union "strike" paper, the Seattle Union Record. While Times and P-I management play hardball--blasting the union almost daily on their op-ed pages--the Union Record seems more concerned with avoiding "going negative" than with winning this strike.
Management at the Times and P-I have no problem going negative. In the Sunday, December 3 issue of The Seattle Times, executive editor Michael R. Fancher dedicated his entire Inside the Times column to bashing the union and defending management's take-it-or-leave-it final offer. In the same issue, op-ed-page editor Mindy Cameron dedicated her entire column to bashing the union ("Be Wary of Labor's Information Blackout").
How did the guild respond in the Seattle Union Record? It didn't. During the next week, the Union Record's editorial page weighed in on health care, presidential politics, and sea lions. It wasn't the first time the Union Record got bested by management in the P.R. battle. After Paul Schell instructed city workers not to speak to scab reporters and replacement workers at the Times and P-I, the Times and P-I editorialized that no one should take sides during the strike. The Union Record didn't respond, effectively letting management frame and win a crucial round in the debate. You can read the Union Record cover to cover, three times a week, and not have any idea why the guild is out on strike.
What the Union Record doesn't seem to understand is that a strike is all about taking sides, and it's the union's job to force people, including elected officials, to declare a position. As long as the union, the Union Record, and its wussy spokesman refuse to act like they're on strike (and if you're on strike, Art, you've already gone negative), the guild doesn't have a prayer. Does anyone at the Union Record know what a strike paper is for? It's supposed to get the union's message out--building public support for the strikers and creating an environment where businesses like the Bon Marché don't feel good about running 10-page spreads in the Times. Unfortunately, while the Times and P-I are being run like strike papers, the Union Record reads like the senior project of an earnest high-school journalism class.
Ultimately, the wimpy Union Record compounds the real problem the strikers have: There isn't deep public support for the strike. While liberal, pro-union Seattleites want to support the strike, their commitment runs about as deep as the sentiment of folks who "want" to ride the bus (but don't, because it sucks) or send their kids to public school (but don't, because they suck). Face it, this isn't a union town in the same way that Detroit is a union town. That city's gory 20-month newspaper strike drew massive public support.
Widespread support for the Times and P-I strikers is only going to come if readers think their post-strike morning newspapers suck. Unfortunately, the post-strike Times and P-I don't differ all that much from their pre-strike versions. With the exception of a few awkward days after the strike was called, when the papers were skinnier and well-versed beat reporters like Kery Murakami and Dan Richman were noticeably absent, the post-strike Times and P-I "products" are almost exactly the same as their pre-strike predecessors: corporate "family" newspapers, with some local reporting, wire-service national and international news, and syndicated op-ed columns that originate in other cities.
And while the Union Record boasts that it has "Seattle's Favorite Columnists," no local daily-paper columnists or reporters have earned the stature of people like the Chicago's Mike Royko. He was a columnist readers identified with, and if he had gone out on strike, they would've supported him. Times readers may enjoy Jean Godden and P-I readers may like Art Thiel, but Times and P-I readers aren't willing to go to the mat for either one. (Meanwhile, there are columnists like Erik Lacitis and Nicole Brodeur. Does anyone know who these people are?)
Management at the Times and P-I have created mediocre newspaper "products" that the readers have little or no investment in, and as a result, the only slightly more mediocre post-strike Times and P-I aren't turning readers off.
Meanwhile, the only thing striking workers have proven with their alternative publication is that they can put out a newspaper every bit as colorless, dull, and mediocre as the Times and P-I. Colorless and dull may be the preferred way to run a daily newspaper in the United States these days, but it's no way to run a union, a strike, or a strike paper.
(As we went to press, the guild sheepishly announced it was going to promote a subscription boycott of the Times and P-I and leaflet outside businesses like the Bon who advertise in the papers. The guild is going to promote the cause through radio ads and direct mail. The guild didn't mention using the Seattle Union Record to make its case.)