The Alien don’t need no unions

I asked a bonafide media expert a few years ago why, besides his conservatism and their liberalism, newspaper people had it in for Rupert Murdoch.  Good question, he said: it’s how he guts staff.

I have my own answer to that, which came to me later: he does not gut staff, but makes newspapers profitable, e.g. Wall Street Journal, and even expands staff, again e.g. Wall Street Journal.No, he got dubbed The Alien by Mike Royko (he’s Australian), who moved to Chi Trib when Murdoch bought the Sun-Times, and was equally excoriated by most other news people, in part because of his editorial policies but mostly because he does without unions.

He did this early in his ownership career, moving printing presses out of London to a non-union location — and thus saving money and jobs.

He waited the union out, in 1987, and won, after 13 months.  Of course, so did Chi Trib, if not so dramatically, and it’s the Newspaper Guild to which I refer, which the Trib kept out of its newsroom, though the Pressmen were certainly stared down.

Now the Sun-Times has a union crisis, as its sole prospective buyer (and potential savior from dissolution) speaks softly about it but carries a big stick as regards contracts and wages.  (A new buyer has emerged today, claiming he’s been blocked in earlier efforts.)

Tomorrow night (Wednesday), the five Newspaper Guild units — for Sun-Times and four other papers of the Sun-Times group — take another, maybe final, vote on going along with the buyer.  These are the college-educated professionals.

Meanwhile, the craft unions, non-college-educated trade practitioners, have voted to take the buyer’s terms — or two of eleven of them have done so — and thus maybe save the paper.

It’s a hard choice to make — the Guild faces the fate of becoming a very thin paper tiger — but there’s nothing anyone can do about it.  The market for their product has plummeted, as we all know; and things will never be how they used to be.

It’s as if they were asked to vote against rain on the day of the Guild picnic.  Half a cake or none.  But if they accept the buyer’s terms, Chicago might just remain a two-newspaper city.  And that, from the perspective of one who hasn’t been a Guild member for 31 years, is reason enough.