Let me say this about that

By Gene Klare

November 19, 1999

THE MONTH OF NOVEMBER is Labor History Month in Oregon. A long chapter in Oregon labor history began in this month 40 years ago. It was on Nov. 10, 1959 that some 850 union members employed at the Newhouse-owned Oregonian and the Newhouse-coveted Oregon Journal walked off their jobs in what would become the longest strike in Oregon's history and one of the longest in the newspaper industry nationally.

George Roe, a member of Multnomah Typographical Union No. 58 who worked at the Oregonian before the strike, wrote a history of the dispute which was published in the Labor Press in 1980. In his article, Roe explained the strike's background:

"The strike was called by the Stereotypers Union (Local 49), which had been in frustratingly bitter negotiations for months with the Oregonian management team, a principal matter for disagreement being the manning of a German-made platemaking machine the Stereotypers had never seen. Abetted by the Journal representatives, the Oregonian team also insisted, among other demands, on a non-union foreman, a giveaway tenaciously resisted by the unionists.

" 'WE NEVER KNEW what to expect,' members of the Stereotypers' negotiation committee reported later. 'Even the (federal) mediator was baffled; said he'd never seen anybody like them.'

"Finally, the Stereotypers had enough and, with the sanction of their international, they set up picket lines at 5 o'clock on the morning of Tuesday, Nov. 10, 1959, around both newspaper buildings.

"... It had been obvious for weeks that if the Stereotypers struck, the printers, all members of Multnomah Typographical Local 58, would individually observe the picket lines ... They did. So did most members of the Newspaper Guild, who thought, with apparent good reason, like the printers, they would be next in line if the Stereotypers Union could be beaten down.

"The Mailers, too, honored the picket lines; they were members of the International Typographical Union, though in a local separate from that of the printers. And so did the Pressmen. Except for the Stereotypers, all contracts were still in effect. With the Pressmen went the Paper Handlers, men whose job entailed preparing the heavy rolls of paper for the press. All the Machinists and Electrical Workers employed in the buildings, plus the Photoengravers, observed the picket lines, likewise all Teamsters.

"SOME OF THOSE on the picket lines had worked as long as 40 years at the papers. The 850 members of the newspaper unions simply did not believe the Oregonian and Journal could publish without them. They were wrong."

Roe's recollections continued:

"Newhouse management men - led by Don Newhouse, a nephew of New York press lord Sam Newhouse, who had added the Oregonian to his chain in 1950 - had for months been familiarizing themselves with the mechanical departments of the paper - the composing room, the stereotyping department, the pressroom and the mailroom.

"And they had allies, itinerant workers in the printing trades who always seem to be available in the underbrush to offer themselves as strikebreakers ...

"But the principal help came from far outside Portland. Unionists have no way of knowing how long before the Stereotypers hit the bricks that the Newhouse telephones were hot with calls to sympathetic publishers asking for loaners. There were reports that preparations for imports had been going on for months."

Some of the scabs came to Portland with guns. Although Newhouse's resident publisher, blustery Mike Frey, called his strikebreakers "good people all," the reality was that some had prior police records and others acquired them while employed by the scab dailies.

Unions involved in the strike maintained that the dispute was provoked by Sam Newhouse's morning Oregonian to create a smokescreen behind which the evening Oregon Journal's three trustees could rationalize their perfidy in selling the locally-owned paper to Newhouse. The Journal had been run by heirs of its crusading founder Sam Jackson since his death in 1924. His widow Maria and their son Philip had made it clear they did not want the Journal to fall into Newhouse's hands. Monopolist Newhouse had coveted the Journal ever since buying the Oregonian from its trustees in 1950. Phil died in 1953. Three years later his mother died at 93.

THE PROBATE PROCESS for Maria Jackson's estate consumed three years. By the time all the legalities were completed at the Multnomah County Courthouse, it was September 1959. Her will vested ownership of the Journal with the Jackson Foundation and named three trustees to run the paper. One was attorney William W. Knight, who'd been hired by Phil Jackson in 1946 as the paper's assistant business manager, and was elevated to publisher in Phil's will. The other two were a big-shot lawyer, David L. Davies, and the then locally-run U.S. Bank, represented by LeRoy B. Staver, its top executive. Within six weeks after that trio gained complete control of the Oregon Journal, the paper became embroiled in a strike provoked by the Oregonian. If the trustees had the best interests of the Journal in mind, they would have severed it from the negotiating tactics of the Oregonian. Had they done so, the Newhouse paper would not have risked a strike because that would have given the Journal an opportunity to boost its circulation and advertising revenue at the expense of the struck Newhouse paper. But the agenda of Sam Newhouse and the Journal trustees was to use the strike as an excuse to ignore Maria Jackson's admonition against selling to Newhouse. Within 20 months, Newhouse had his long-coveted Portland monopoly with the purchase of the Journal. The deal-clincher was a l0-year contract to keep Bill Knight on as publisher.

(Knight's son Phil is the billionaire boss of Nike.) A consortium of Oregon business executives (including a former governor) who owned newspapers outside the Portland area offered to buy the Journal and keep ownership and control in Oregon - in compliance with the Jackson family's wishes - but they had no interest in retaining the hard-drinking Knight as publisher. The Newhouses kept the Journal operating until 1982 when Old Sam's sons killed it.

"The Oregonian and Journal managed to print a hydra-headed edition in late afternoon on the first day of the strike," George Roe's account of the strike reported. "It was a terrible product with a press run of only a few thousand, using type that had been set days before, and with a makeshift front page that told management's version of the strike ... as the days went by and more trained help arrived, it became better. The joint Oregonian-Journal masthead continued for about six months until they had enough scabs to man both plants..."

Among the bright spots in the strike was the publishing by the strikers and their unions of the Portland Reporter, a lively tabloid that provided a news medium for the tens of thousands of people who canceled their subscriptions to the scab-produced Oregonian and Journal. The Reporter began in February 1960 and died of financial malnutrition in September 1964. The following April the printing trades unions decided to officially end the strike that was by then five and a half years old. In the intervening years, personal and financial tragedies befell the strikers and their families.


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