Let me say this about that

By Gene Klare

February 15, 2002

"PACKINGHOUSE DAUGHTER" is the title of a book written by Dr. Cheri Register, whose father was involved in a strike a half-century ago in Minnesota. A review of the book was printed recently in The Union Register, published by the Portland-headquartered Western Council of Industrial Workers, which is an affiliate of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters. The review was written by Patrick Philpott, managing editor of The Union Register, which also serves the Mississippi-based Southern Council of Industrial Workers.

"Book relates the personal memoir of a strike that changed a community" is the headline over the review, which follows:

"EVERY PERSON who participates in a strike or is affected by one will have their personal view of its heroes, villains, effects and aftermath. Cheri Register's Packinghouse Daughter blends her personal memories of a 1959 meatpackers' strike against Wilson & Company in Albert Lea, Minnesota, with those of friends, families, workers, neighbors and citizens of the Midwest community who were embroiled in a bitter, little-known 109-day strike.

"Western Council and Southern Council members have seen their share of labor conflicts and will find the personal recollections and feelings expressed in this book very familiar. Register's work captures the effect on a working family and its community when a company attempts to break their will and devalue their work.

"THIS BOOK is not just a chronicle of facts and a conclusion of findings, but a personal view combined with those of others affected by the bitter strike. Over 1,000 workers rejected management's proposal and walked the picket line in an attempt to preserve their jobs and community.

"Register brings the stories of the other persons into this work along with her personal memoir of a teenager who staunchly supported her father and his fellow packinghouse workers. She interviewed other workers, labor leaders, company representatives, neighbors, politicians and other players in the strike and its conclusion.

"ALTHOUGH WILSON brought in replacement workers, threatened to move the facility and used all possible methods to break the strike, the union workers were determined in their resolve to achieve a fair contract. The Minnesota governor, Orville Freeman, finally enacted martial law, bringing in the National Guard and shutting down the plant.

"The strike was finally settled with an arbitration board established to restore the workers to their jobs. The workers and their union achieved a significant victory in establishing their right to their jobs.

"WORKER PRIDE, disappointment, support for each other, anger at those who didn't understand their issues, and other working class themes flow through this book. Packinghouse Daughter, which Register says is what her Ph.D. stands for, is a very poignant and touching view of a struggle that union workers face day in and day out..."


THE MINNESOTA STRIKE harks back to the era of the long and bitter strike against the New York-owned Oregonian, a morning daily, and the then-locally owned Oregon Journal, an evening paper.

The Portland strike began Nov. 10, 1959, but did not stop the papers from publishing. At first they printed a sloppy two-headed monstrosity but as additional scabs were recruited, the two papers returned to publishing separately. Picketing continued until April 4, 1965 when the unions declared an end to the strike.

THE STRIKE against the Newhouse chain's Oregonian and the Journal involved more than 850 members of about a dozen local unions. Many of the strikers had spent decades working for the Portland dailies. Some had more than 40 years of seniority. For the older unionists, honoring the picket line meant relinquishing any claim to a pension from the papers, and they also saw their Social Security accounts dry up.

The unions maintained that management provoked the strike to provide a smokescreen to give the Journal's three trustees a rationale for selling the local newspaper to monopolist Samuel I.

Newhouse of New York, the super-rich media magnate. SIN, to use his three initials, bought the Oregonian in 1950 and immediately began coveting the Oregon Journal so that he'd have a monopoly in Portland. But the will of Maria Jackson, who died in 1956 and was the widow of Journal founder Sam Jackson, said she didn't want the paper taken over by Newhouse, preferring that the paper's three trustees sell to local buyers. However, a strike could give the trustees the excuse that because the dispute was hurting the Journal financially they should accept an offer from SIN. The strike began only six weeks after Mrs. Jackson's will finally was probated.

A GROUP OF Oregon businessmen, including two publishers of daily newspapers, sought to buy the Journal. But SIN outfoxed them by offering a long-term contract to William W. Knight, a trustee who was the Jackson-appointed publisher. Knight persuaded his fellow trustees - a lawyer and a banker - to accept SIN's offer. The Oregon bidders, who had qualified publishers on their own payrolls, had no need to retain the hard-drinking Knight.

Knight had been a newspaper association's anti-union lawyer before being hired by Sam Jackson's son Philip as assistant business manager of the Journal. (That probably caused Sam Jackson, a crusading liberal, to stir restlessly in his grave.) After Philip's death in the early 1950s, Knight, by then business manager, was elevated to publisher. Today, Knight's name appears on a law school building at his alma mater, the University of Oregon, thanks to millions given to the Eugene institution by Knight's son, Philip, the Nike billionaire who's also a UO alum.

SIN ACQUIRED the Journal in August 1961 and moved it into the Oregonian building. SIN's sons killed off the Journal.

Instead of the Journal being alive and publishing today as a locally-owned newspaper, it has an expensive tombstone - the Jackson Family Foundation - which a few years ago had the amazing assets of $14 million. The foundation's wealth began with the $8 million SIN paid for the Journal 41 years ago. But Portland would be better off if it still had an independent Oregon Journal as a daily newspaper competing against the New York-owned Oregonian.


THE MANAGEMENT of the struck Oregon Health and Science University Hospital in southwest Portland followed the same pattern set by many another struck employers. OHSU bosses paid their imported strikebreaking nurses a higher wage than was paid to the striking nurses and also footed the bill for the scabs' room and board until the strike was settled.

In the Portland newspaper strike, the Newhouse-owned Oregonian not only paid for the food and lodging of scabs housed at a hotel across the street from the Oregonian's marbled edifice but also picked up the tab for the booze imbibed by the imported scabs at the hotel's bar. For Samuel I. Newhouse to be throwing money around like that was Ironic with a capital I. For a period of a year prior to the strike, the paper's editors rejected repeated requests by a reporter for his editors' okay to dig into county corruption. The Oregonian's editors' decision was dictated by SIN's clampdown on newsroom overtime. SIN wanted more money from the Oregonian's cash register to flow to his Park Avenue headquarters in New York City.

Even OHSU's address recalls the newspaper strike. The address is 3181 SW Sam Jackson Park Road. Sam was the liberal founder of the Oregon Journal who died in 1924. His widow Maria and son Philip, the Journal's publisher, had purchased nearly 90 acres of land on what's now known as "Pill Hill" for use as a park that would be a memorial to Sam. However, they let the land be used as the site for an expansion of what was then called the University of Oregon Medical School and also for the location of the first U.S. Veterans Hospital.


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