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The Great Newspaper Strikes of 1962-63

Started by Dave Hughes, December 22, 2012, 08:27:21 PM

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Dave Hughes

Nice article about this historic New York strike in Vanity Fair: The Long Good-Bye.

A few extracts from the story:

A little more than two hours after midnight on December 8, 1962, hundreds of printers walked away from their clattering Linotype machines and their rumbling presses and departed en masse from The New York Times's block-long composing room, on West 43rd Street. Everything they deemed essential—typewriters, adding machines, a public-address system, manila folders stuffed with union documents—was packed into cardboard boxes and carted away to strike headquarters, in Greenwich Village. The printers, most of them second-generation Irish, Italian, and Jewish men in their 40s, belonged to Local No. 6 of the International Typographical Union (I.T.U.), a confederation better known by its historic nickname, "Big Six." The Times was shut down, and within hours so was every other major newspaper in New York City.

As a young reporter at the Herald Tribune, Richard Wald got to know the men who worked in the paper's composing room. "It was a fiercely unionized place, a fiercely well-guarded place, run by very intelligent people," says Wald. "It wasn't drunken layabouts. The newsroom was drunken layabouts." In a world where reporters and editors jumped from paper to paper, it was the blue-collar unions that gave each enterprise a certain continuity, if not stability—at least, that's how they saw it. Says Wald, "They were the newspaper, in their minds. It existed because of them. They made it. They were the manufacturers. That they were manufacturing horseshoes in an automobile era was difficult for everybody, but they were the manufacturers."

But technology had pronounced a death sentence. After nearly a century, the magnificent Linotype machine, with its unwieldy keyboard and its attached vessel of molten metal, was on the verge of obsolescence as computerized, "cold" typography made inroads everywhere. Operating and maintaining the Linotype process required large numbers of workers, and the process itself was relatively slow and cumbersome. "You knew the unions were going to go out of business, that something was coming," says Jimmy Breslin. "There were too many people tinkering with freaking machinery."

The unity of the newspaper owners eroded before that of the printers. On February 28, during a cheerless meeting of the Publishers Association, the Post's Dorothy Schiff stood up and declared, "I want you to know I'm resigning from the association and resuming publication Monday." Newspaper publishers rarely make good copy, but Schiff, nearly 59, was an exception. "Now I can stop taking tranquilizers," she remarked after announcing her decision. In her youth, the granddaughter of the financier Jacob Schiff had had affairs with Lord Beaverbrook, the newspaper baron, and, quite possibly, with Franklin D. Roosevelt (even though she always denied it); she would later collect four husbands. In the depth of its reporting and the quality of its prose, the Post, had never soared as high as the Herald Tribune or The New York Times, but the paper honored its liberal convictions with the causes it took up (the New Deal, civil rights) and the enemies it pursued (Joseph McCarthy, J. Edgar Hoover, Walter Winchell, Robert Moses, Richard Nixon). Now Schiff was ready to end the lockout at the Post, and on March 4, to the delight of New Yorkers, who lined up in Times Square to get it, the resurrected paper hit the newsstands. Some of the other publishers never forgave Dorothy Schiff for breaking ranks. "It was a traitorous act," Marian Heiskell, the wife of Times publisher Orvil Dryfoos, told Schiff's biographer, Marilyn Nissenson, "and it certainly prolonged the strike."
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It's a fascinating story which took me two short train trips to read. The impact on the community is described thus:

"Three hundred and fifty blind, crippled, and elderly newsdealers were forced out of business; 5,000 hotel and restaurant workers were discharged; welfare agencies reported that, without the ads they placed in newspapers, offers to take in orphaned and needy children dropped from roughly 100 per month to zero; charity balls were canceled. Without printed obituaries, attendance at wakes and funerals declined, and flower shops suffered. "A lot of people just don't know when their friends die," a florist told Newsweek. Promotion, like nature, abhors a vacuum, and as Christmas approached, improvisation filled the void. In the windows of Stern's Department Store, attractive models scrawled daily specials on blackboards. On Madison Avenue, employees from a P.R. firm held up signs with the latest news and gossip about their clients."

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