Let me say this about that

By Gene Klare

March 5, 1999

THE VOLUME NUMBER found on the front page of the Northwest Labor Press clicked up to 100 with the start of this year. Volume 1 was a short one, running from Labor Day in 1900, when the newspaper was started, to the end of that year. While 1999 marks the 100th year of publication for the Labor Press, the paper won't reach its 100th birthday until Labor Day in the year 2000, which, of course, is next year. A special edition will commemorate the auspicious event.

This newspaper was founded as a non-profit weekly by local unions affiliated with the Portland Federated Trades Assembly, which was the name of the Rose City's central labor council 99 years ago. The council's name later became Portland Labor Council, then Multnomah County Labor Council. In the early 1980s its name was changed to Northwest Oregon Labor Council (NOLC) to reflect its enlarged geographic area covering the counties of Multnomah, Washington, Columbia and Clackamas. Over a period of years, central labor councils in the latter three counties had voted to merge with the Portland-based council. The NOLC is an affiliate of the national American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations and of the Oregon AFL-CIO.

Local unions within the Portland Federated Trades Assembly that sparked the launching of the Portland Labor Press, as this paper was first named, included the Typographers, Pressmen, Machinists, Millworkers, Electrical Workers, Barbers, Retail Clerks, Letter Carriers, Brewers, Cigarmakers, Musicians and Beer Drivers. The printing trades, building trades and metal trades were among groups of local unions that used their collective influence to support the start-up of the Labor Press as a weekly newspaper.

THE REASON WHY the turn-of-the-century Portland area labor movement wanted to publish its own community weekly newspaper was because the commercial daily newspapers of that era were biased against labor unions and working people in their news and editorial columns, a situation that still exists 99 years later. The early-day Oregonian newspaper carried its antipathy toward unions to such an extreme that it even opposed the designation of a Labor Day holiday by the Oregon Legislature. Today the anti-union, non-union Oregonian is a fat, multi-billion-dollar monopoly operated for the financial benefit of the New York Newhouse family of media billionaires. The Newhouses have owned the Oregonian since 1950.

Labor movements in cities across the country started their own community weekly newspapers for the same reason that Portland unions founded the Labor Press - because they weren't getting a fair shake from the commercial dailies. In recent years, however, many labor newspapers have faded away. Only a quarter-century or so ago community labor newspapers were published in cities up and down the West Coast. Today, this newspaper is one of the very few survivors.

Labor papers in the West and elsewhere fell by the wayside for several reasons. A major factor was the sharp and continuing rise in postal rates which started right after Congress and the Nixon Administration did away with the Post Office as a Cabinet-level department and created the U.S. Postal Service as a government-owned corporation in 1971. Within a short time frame postal rates for non-profit labor publications jumped by more than 1,500 percent.

In 1982, the Reagan Administration, Congress and the Postal Service board of governors doubled the postage charges for non-profit labor publications. The jumps in postage rates coupled with increases in printing costs overwhelmed many labor publications. In cities and states where the leadership of central labor councils and state labor federations lacked the vision and commitment to maintain their community labor newspapers, papers that had been published for decades simply disappeared.

WHEN THIS NEWSPAPER first went to press, on an old hand-fed flatbed press, its nameplate said Portland Labor Press. The logo was changed 15 years later to Oregon Labor Press at the request of the Oregon State Federation of Labor, which was formed in 1902, two years after the Labor Press was started. A dozen years ago the paper broadened its name to Northwest Labor Press.

The Labor Press was published weekly for its first 82 years. When postal rates for non-profit labor papers were doubled in 1982, delegates from shareholding unions met and voted to reduce the non-profit Labor Press's publication frequency from weekly to twice a month because they could not afford the increased cost to continue weekly publication. At that time unions were financially hard hit by the Reagan Recession and by the anti-union policies of the Reagan Administration.

With its 100th birthday in the offing, the Northwest Labor Press ranks as one of the oldest labor newspapers in the International Labor Communications Association, whose jurisdiction covers the United States and Canada. For many years the NW Labor Press has printed more pages and been read by more union families each year than any labor paper west of the Mississippi River. Last year the NW Labor Press won a first-place general excellence award in the ILCA's annual journalism competition.


THE PAPERWORKER, the publication of the recently merged United Paperworkers International Union and the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union, has reported that beleaguered workers at the Avondale shipyard near New Orleans are hoping that a new owner will mean the end of their long-running struggle for economic justice. It's been reported that the unionized Newport News Shipbuilding firm of Virginia "was paying $470 million in stock to buy out Avondale Industries Inc.," The Paperworker said. The labor newspaper went on to report: "It has been five years since Avondale workers organized with the Metal Trades Council of Metairie, La. 'They are among the lowest-paid shipbuilding workers in the nation,' said Philip Miller of the council. Avondale resisted the unionization efforts with intimidation, including the illegal firing of 28 union supporters."

CLOSER TO HOME, two recent news events contained an interesting intersect.

The Port of Portland is in the process of selling its Swan Island ship repair yard to Cascade General Inc. for a reported $38.8 million. The proposed sale has the support of the Portland Metal Trades Council, which has a collective bargaining contract with Cascade and its owner Frank Foti.

THE OTHER STORY with a Port connection appeared on an Oregonian business page and said the the Port's longtime "public relations expert" was joining a high-powered public relations and lobbying firm as a partner. The story said the Port's public relations department had won a number of awards while expert Darrell Buttice was its director.

There's an adage that says a newspaperman is only as good as his files. In this instance, Labor Press Editor Mike Gutwig's files happened to contain a 1990 copy of "Portside,'" a slick-paged quarterly horn-tooter published by the Port of Portland and edited by one of PR Director Buttice's assistants. A full-page story in the magazine carried the headline, "Non-Traditional Work Helps Portland Shipyard." An interesting tidbit of information in the story, referring to "the publicly-owned ship repair facilities," said of them:

"These facilities - financed by the Port of Portland and Portland area taxpayers and valued at more than $250 million - are second to none on the West Coast."

THE $211.2 MILLION QUESTION is a three-partner: Was the Port's Swan Island real estate really worth $250 million in 1990? If so, how did its value plummet to $38.8 million in 1999? Or was the $250 million figure one of the Port's prize-winning public relations snow jobs?


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