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June 9, 1966, Vol. XI, No. 34
Workers of the World (Journal Tribune) Unite
By Jack Newfield
The inspiration may have been Heywood Broun, but the reality was more in the spirit of W.C. Fields, when seven journalists conducted a press conference last week to float the idea of a separate newspaper union for editorial employees.
The day before, the seven rebels, including Tribune columnists Jimmy Breslin and Dick Schaap and Pogo cartoonist Walt Kelly, declared their intention to organize a rival union to the 34-year-old Newspaper Guild that would be restricted to editorial people only. At the moment the Guild includes a majority of advertising, clerical, maintenance, and circulation employees.
Immediately their announcement disrupted negotiations in the 38-day-old strike against the merged World Journal Tribune. Incumbent Guild leader Thomas J. Murphy accused the capitalists across the bargaining table of encouraging the dissidents in order to shatter the solidarity of the proles.
The rebels’ press conference was scheduled for 11 a.m. at Gallagher’s Steak House on West 52nd Street. At the appointed moment the dissidents were closeted in the rear, trying to resolve differences among themselves.
As the gaggle of electronic journalists were unloading their cameras, tape recorders, klieg lights and microphones, a dozen police burst through the door to hunt down a bomb they had been tipped was planted in the steak house. A search revealed no evidence the class struggle had turned violent.
Crew-cut, raspy voiced Schaap was the first of the rebels to emerge from the back room, telling the assemblage of working journalists, “I hope you guys aren’t planning to write about this seriously.”
Soon the seven rebels were seated around a table, beneath fading photos of fighters, horses, and millionaires, before a forest of microphones.
Red-faced Walt Kelly, the senior insurgent, read a statement. He said Murphy’s allegation that his group was harming the strike negotiations was like “blaming the Johnstown flood on a leaky toilet in Altoona.” He added:
“We have decided, therefore, to wait until the current negotiations are successfully completed before pressing for reforms in the structure of newspaper unionism…As of now we have no union and no members. But we have an office, 75 East 55th Street, and we have an idea.”
The issue of craft versus industrial unions was fought and resolved by the Guild in 1937, when it voted to affiliate with John L. Lewis and the CIO. The insurgents themselves were divided over whether they wanted to be an autonomous group within the existing Guild, “one great big union” IWW-style, or a truly separate union for writers and editors.
But with the tension of the immediate formation of a rival union removed from the agenda, the press conference quickly descended into low comedy, starring Breslin.
The Runyonesque Trib columnist began, appropriately, by attacking the management of the Guild’s bar on West 44th Street. “If you can’t make money,” he said, “from a bunch of newspapermen with a bar, you might as well commit suicide.”
Then Breslin, who eagerly admitted his ignorance of the history of the labor movement, got annoyed at the legal questions asked him by the agent of the AFL-CIO news.
“Dual unionism? What’s that?” glared Breslin. “You don’t ask sensible questions. Can’t you even listen? Come on, get out of here,” he added menacingly, clenching and unclenching his huge fists.
Cartoonist Kelly then picked up the assault on the Guild, complaining that it was controlled by people who are not creative and not writers. “There are people in that union,” he said, “whose job is to trap cats out in Central Park.”
Then Kelly, wearying of the act, intoned, “Thank you Mister President,” the traditional signal for the conclusion of presidential press conferences. When the reporters persisted in peppering the divided insurgents with more questions, Kelly suddenly launched into an imitation of Mike Quill, finishing by tearing up his own press release and shouting Quill’s famous last words “I hope you drop dead in your judges’ robes.”
As the press applauded, Breslin, his debt to the IRA forebears paid, lurched toward the bar.
And Schaap, the most thoughtful of the rebels, wore an expression recalling Billy Moyers’ at the moment the President displayed his scar to the world.
[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]