• U.S.

The Press: Two Men

6 minute read

The two men are much alike: militarily erect, grey-haired six-footers, quietly groomed. They are also enemies. Since Dec. 8, when nine New York dailies fell silent, the two men have come together many times in many rooms, with nothing in common but an avowed purpose: to get the city’s newspapers back into print. In this purpose, both have signally failed. They have nothing to say to each other beyond a few cold, perfunctorily polite words. In their stubborn refusal to start meaningful negotiations, it is almost as if Bertram Anthony Powers, president of New York Local 6 of the International Typographical Union, and Amory Howe Bradford, general manager of the New York Times, were anxious mainly to keep the newspapers off the streets.

Separate Paths. Powers, who called the strike, does not trust Bradford. He is not so much printer as union politician, a shrewd and self-made man whose formal education ended with the second year of high school. By 1961, Powers’ ambition had carried him all the way to the presidency of Local 6, from which eminence he issued the command that struck nine dailies dumb.

Amory Bradford traveled a vastly different course to his collision with the union leader. A product of the Ivy League —Phillips Academy, Yale ’34—Bradford practiced corporation law in Manhattan for nine years before joining the Times as assistant to the publisher in 1947. There he rose steadily through the executive ranks. His position on the Times, plus his law background, made him the Publishers Association’s logical choice to confront the printers’ truculence.

More than the gulf between these men keeps the papers mute. Pride and prejudice are deeply involved on both sides. The I.T.U. is a proud union, with roots buried deep in the 18th century, when some New York City compositors agitated for a pay increase to $1 a day. The I.T.U. printer considers his job a personal possession, like a car or a house—not a work privilege to be conferred and withdrawn by management.

The pride and prejudice of the newspaper publishers prevents them from granting the printers, or other mechanical help, full membership in journalism’s family. A printer does not earn pay boosts on merit; his leaders negotiate them. None of the I.T.U.’s 115,000 members get a penny more than the wages set at contract time. The situation tends to dehumanize relations and to develop a common respect for power.

Two years ago, Powers and Bradford locked horns for the first time in what was a minor but prophetic application of force. The Times had fired a printer for cussing his foreman, and an arbitration board upheld his dismissal. But the paper, working toward a new contract with the I.T.U.. and aware that the printer’s dismissal was an inflammatory side issue, reinstated him anyway.

Last Resort. Beyond the irreconcilable differences lie the negotiable issues of money and prerogative. They are not being negotiated. Powers admits that his demands, which amount to $38 more a week per man, are unrealistic and unattainable, but he shows no spirit of compromise. Instead, in Bradford’s company, he insists that the new contract, whenever it is signed, expire on Oct. 31, 1964. The date is meaningful. It would move the printers’ contract back to coincide with that of the Newspaper Guild, whose role as standard-bearer for the printing craft unions Bert Powers intends to recoup for the I.T.U. It also falls just before the national elections, an event of such news significance that any strike called on Oct. 31 would turn the city’s newspaper publishers into frantic men.

The publishers have offered a settlement that would add $9.20 per man in benefits and pay during the contract’s two-year term—and $9,000,000 a year to the newspapers’ labor costs. The publishers claim that they cannot afford even this sum, that they would have to ask more money from readers or advertisers. Both are dubious sources of extra revenue.

New York’s afternoon papers already sell for a dime. The four morning papers still sell for a nickel, but the pacesetting New York Times, anxious to keep the Herald Tribune from developing into a healthy competitor, will raise its copy price only as a desperate last resort. As for newspaper ad rates, they are dangerously high, in a period when the newspapers are getting more of a run than ever from magazines, radio and TV.

For these reasons, the publishers are as obdurate as Bert Powers. Said one of them: “We will stand on our offer longer than Powers can stand on his. He has to yield. He won’t get another 15¢ out of us because we don’t have it to give.” Such strong talk draws from Powers only a cynical smile. “The only thing that counts,” said he last week, “is muscle. If disputes were settled by reason or justice. there wouldn’t be unions.”

By this Powers means that the publishers are unreasonable and unjust men, who must be muscled into playing fair. His attitude may have been accurate half a century ago, when labor clawed its way to strength against management so unenlightened that 50 printers commonly stood all day outside a newspaper plant on the chance that one of them might be called in for an hour’s work.

The Wounds. Sooner or later, New York’s strike will end. Strong pressures mount each week to end it. The unions’ war chests are depleting: within four weeks, the printers will be forced to tap the national membership at large for contributions right off the top of their pay. Other idled unions are growing restive, especially the pressmen and the drivers; both had all but agreed to accept the $9.20 package when Powers abruptly led his men off the job.

That strike has already made many wounds. Nearly 20,000 men are out of work; 5,700,000 readers are without their papers; 350 blind news vendors have shuttered their stands; the city’s economic pulse has measurably slowed. But these wounds are superficial, and will eventually heal. The strike cuts far deeper, by raising questions that will nag at the consciences of those directly involved long after the publishers and the printers have come to terms.

Blindness. The publishers presented their case poorly, by withholding much of the concrete evidence that would explain their reluctance to accept the printers’ package, and by revealing at the negotiation table a stubbornness to match the printers’ intransigence. Nor have the newspapers exhibited much will to meet their keystone responsibility to stay in print somehow—even by makeshift—which is just what Portland’s two daily newspapers did three years ago. during a mass walkout that is still in effect. For his part, Bert Powers could have kept his men working at their jobs while he bargained with men whom only his own blindness prevents him from recognizing as reasonable.

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