While the plug has been pulled on the Detroit newspaper strike, the picket line persists. The Detroit newspaper strike, now in its twentieth month, has become the Detroit newspaper lock-out. In mid-February word came down from the union brass that an offer of unconditional surrender was fast coming. And it did. Why would the 2,000 workers who have been striking for almost two years want to make an offer to return to work at pre-strike conditions, still without a contract? Well, most of them didn’t, but five out of six of the unions involved are non-democratic, and don’t accurately represent the wishes of the rank and file. Being on strike without permission from the internationals would mean an end to all the resources that these organizations represent (strike benefits and legal representation, for example).
Gannet-Knight Ridder accepted the offer less than a week after it was made. The company plans on keeping all its scabs. To date, the company has only offered ten people their jobs back, or rather jobs period—one out of two of the formal offers would include demotions so severe that it is clear that they are creating a situation in which it would be impossible for anyone to accept the offered positions. If a return-to-work offer is rejected, it carries the same legal ramifications as officially quitting would. Not that any of this affects the 1,990 workers who have not heard, and are not likely to hear, from the papers. The only thing that changes for them is the word used to describe their reality. The strike becomes a “lock-out”, but you still don’t have a job.
The union management is pursuing unfair labor practice complaints with the National Labor Relations Board. The hope here is that the NLRB will force the company to bring back any worker that hasn’t been fired for picket line misconduct, and shell out back-pay from the date that the unconditional surrender offer was made. Even if this plan is successful, it won’t be much of a victory since it would allow the company (and the union) to rid itself of the people who have been most active in the strike. The locked-out workers who have been fired are the people who have been the most consistent and vehement in organizing to win this thing, and walking the picket line.
This isn’t as alarming a possibility as it sounds, however, because it would still entail the federal government of the U.$. to come down on the side of labor. There is no real precedent for that happening. From its very inception, the union movement in this country began its demise, as it curtailed wild-cat strikes and made worker-boss relationships a governable process. It’s all been downhill from there. Legally, some people never get to strike (“threat to national $ecurity”), some strikes can be called off by the government and all picket line activity is strictly regulated. Companies can permanently replace their workers and the government plays a leading role every time a union is destroyed. So, as weak a victory for labor as a government-forced rehiring might be, there is little reason to believe that the government would do even that much.
The unions were harassed enough to throw the rank-and-file a bone even as it sold them down the river. As a result of much agitation on the part of locked-out workers, there will be a national march on Detroit this June. Tactically, little has changed. The only real recourse that “locked-out” workers have is to find a way to make it more inconvenient to crush the unions than not to.
Since the company has already spent a quarter of a billion dollars on busting this union, it’s clear that applying pressure directly to the source has been ineffectual. Gannet-Knight Ridder have shown us that they are willing to do whatever it takes to end organized labor in this country. No price is too high to pay upfront, when in the end they will never again have to pay out a living wage at any of their businesses.
There are people who could force them to the bargaining table, however. The city could stop spending money on cops to defend the company, or it could tell them that until this is settled that the papers aren’t going to be sold on city property, or it could make it impossible for business as usual to continue. But why would the city want to do all that? Well, they might want to do that if we, instead of shutting down the ambassador bridge as a symbolic act of resistance for an hour or two, took it hostage. They might want to because all of the highways got shut down, and big money conventions were disrupted, or a general strike was executed. There are lots of ways to get the attention of the powers that be, and we have already seen several actions along these lines carried out. A formal campaign to shut down motown has been formulated and begun. A general strike committee has been formed. If we can step up this campaign of inconvenience and embarrassment in the city of Detroit and culminate it with an even mildly successful general strike, we can still turn this situation around.
This strike is going to end soon and it’s either going to end as a victory for the ruling class of this county or the working class, and that has nothing to do with newspapers.
If you want to be involved in this struggle, please come to Detroit and participate in the general strike on June 20 and the national march on Detroit on June 21. For more information, please call 313.831.6150.