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Rally 

At Tribune Tower With the New York Strikers

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I'm called by somebody from the local of the Newspaper Guild--one of the unions on strike against New York's Daily News--about a demonstration in front of the Tribune Tower the next morning. The Tribune Company owns seven newspapers, including the 71-year-old Daily News, and the company's board of directors is to meet Tuesday morning to hear a report from embattled Daily News publisher James Hoge. Some strikers from New York are coming to try to confront Charles Brumback, the Tribune Company's president, and they've called for a rally and picket. As a representative of the National Writers Union, a small and struggling union of free-lance writers, I, along with politicians and representatives of other unions, am asked to say some words of support.

I've been following the strike, which has been racking New York for the past month and a half and has seized the attention of people around the country who are concerned with the state of unions, labor-management relations, or newspapers. It's been a savagely fought battle on both sides, with charges and countercharges of intimidation and coercion. What does seem clear is that management deliberately provoked the strike, then moved in immediately with replacement workers and security forces they'd had waiting in the wings--all to rid themselves of printing trade unions, just as the Tribune did here after the 1985 strike of its pressmen, printers, and mailers. Yet despite the fact that the Daily News apparently spent some $75 million on preparations for the strike and had new workers on the job within an hour, the Tribune Company may actually lose this strike. The New York strikers, from nine of the paper's ten unions, have been able to rally public support and have cut circulation by better than half (from more than a million to about 500,000), and the paper has lost almost all of its major advertisers.

So I say sure, I'll be glad to be there for the Writers Union and to bring as many of our members as I can on short notice.

I arrive a little after 9:30 on Tuesday morning. I can see the pickets circling as I approach, hear the street-corner loudspeaker. Across the street is the "strikemobile," the battered, multicolored old van festooned with posters and slogans ("Please do not buy the union-busting Chicago Tribune") that the still-active remnants of the 1985 Trib strikers like to park in front of the Tribune Tower whenever they can. Dennis Rivera, the head of the Daily News Strike Support Committee in New York, is at the mike. He's saying that the News is now approaching homeless people with bundles of papers, telling them to sell as many copies as they can and to keep the money--just to get the paper out. Rivera--small, dark, wiry, and sporting a handsome brown fedora--is charismatic. He's not on strike himself because he's from 1199, a hospital and health-care workers' union, though he recently led the local in an intense strike. But he's an up-and-coming figure on the labor scene, and he thinks this fight could be pivotal. He's also a good friend of Juan Gonzalez, the Daily News columnist who has become one of the strike's main leaders and is credited with rallying his own union, the Newspaper Guild, even though he'd only attended one of its meetings before the strike began. Together they seem to signify a new energy and combativeness--as well as a Latin presence--in the union movement.

Rivera is addressing a not-too-large (150 to 200), slowly revolving crowd of pickets. Most of the signs are generic ones from the guild and simply announce that the unions are on strike in New York against the News. But here and there is one that's hand lettered: "The News is Bad--So is the Tribune"; "Daily News Locked Out--Owned by Union-Busting Tribune." Many of the marchers look like run-of-the-mill worker types; others are more smartly dressed. Some 15 unions, covering trades from plumbers to teachers, are said to be represented, and there are three Daily News reporters. There's also a bunch of older weather-beaten guys, who are either from the Tribune Unity Committee (the strikers who continue the campaign against the Trib--and who also made the handlettered signs) or some of what a friend describes as the old unionists you always see at union rallies. One of these-- Norm Roth, a retired autoworker--has brought his harmonica. He plays some of the old songs, mostly "Solidarity Forever" and "Hold the Fort." Some join in, singing as they walk around, "When the union's inspiration through the workers' blood shall run.É Hold the fort, for we are coming. Union men be stro-o-o-ong." I see a couple others from the Writers Union. We stand and watch for a while, then join the marchers.

Other speakers, trade unionists with messages of fellowship and solidarity, come and go. Then it's the politicians' turn. Danny Davis expresses his support; 26th Ward Alderman Jesus Garcia gives a sharp, almost fiery speech; and 46th Ward Alderman Helen Shiller notes that she kept up her membership in the Chicago Typographical Union #16 even after she was elected so that she could continue backing the Tribune strikers.

The day before 20,000 people had rallied in support of the strikers in front of the Daily News Building in New York. They were addressed by, among others, Governor Mario Cuomo and John Cardinal O'Connor. That sort of thing seems hard to imagine here. Both Cuomo and O'Connor criticized the practice of hiring permanent replacement workers, a company tactic that became increasingly common in the 1980s after it was used by Ronald Reagan in the 1981 air-traffic-controllers' strike. The AFL-CIO has declared this its number-one issue. But the Chicago Federation of Labor, which boasts 500,000 members in 1,000 locals, couldn't muster more than 100-odd for a demonstration protesting those tactics. The federation bigwigs, I'm told, can't make the rally because they're attending a ceremony for a new Building Trades Council head.

Not that I bring any of this up when it comes time for me to step up to the microphone. I simply describe the National Writers Union (few have heard of us), express support for the strike, note that our fellow feeling springs not just from the fact that there are writers on strike but also because we identify ourselves with the union movement--that's how we differentiate our organization from other writers' associations.

Before everyone leaves, Rivera wants to deliver a letter to Brumback, who's meeting upstairs with Hoge and the board of directors. The letter demands that the company settle the strike or sell the News to someone who will, possibly to the unions themselves, who are afraid the company will simply shut down the paper. Rivera and others attempt to enter the building but are stopped at the door by security personnel. Reporters, cameramen, and demonstrators crowd around the door. The three policemen who've been standing along the building have made no effort to stop the demonstrators from entering. Now one of them turns toward two men in suits who've been standing off to the side watching. The cop shrugs his shoulders and spreads his hands wide.

Rivera turns away from the blocked door. The press packs its gear. Clumps of people exchange impressions and good-byes. Then Tribune security watches from inside the door as individuals and small groups drift off across the street or up the sidewalk.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Loren Santow.

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