Tuesday, March 5, 2019

"Lessons from [the 1975] Washington Post labor dispute"

ON THE MORNING OF OCTOBER 1, 1975, I was taking my turn at the cooperative nursery school my son attended when the pressmen—the workers who ran the physical presses—struck at The Washington Post. They did not go peacefully. Infamously, and painfully, they set presses on fire in the basement of the Post building and beat up a foreman. The Post would make the most of this, and it would divide and almost destroy the union to which I belonged, the Newspaper Guild.


So, uninformed and in shock, Guild members met that October afternoon at the historic Metropolitan AME Church, around the corner from the Post. The unit voted overwhelmingly to cross the picket line and continue working. We would be the only one of several unions at the Post to do so during the pressmen’s strike. Our refusal to honor the picket line may have doomed their strike from the start. But we had already “withheld our excellence” minus a picket line the year before, so that the printers could continue working without jeopardizing their lifetime job guarantees. The paper published, our absence barely noted by readers and advertisers, and, after 14 days, defeated and humiliated, we went back to work.