Let me say this about that

By Gene Klare

June 6, 2003

(Second in a Series)

THE STRIKE AGAINST the Newhouse chain paper, the a.m. Oregonian, and the trustee-run p.m. Oregon Journal began on Nov. 10, 1959. The unions contended that the local agents of multimillionaire New Yorker Samuel I. Newhouse instigated the Portland newspaper strike to give the Journal trustees a financial excuse to sell the Jackson Family paper to Newhouse even though the last surviving Jacksons had said they did not want the Journal sold to him.

Stereotypers Local 49’s members called the strike because the negotiators for the Oregonian and Journal insisted on contract terms they knew the Stereotypers would not accept. The chief management negotiator was the Oregonian’s William R. Morrish. He demanded that the Stereotypers agree that one man could operate a new German-made stereotyping machine which was not then in use on any newspaper in the United States. Stereotyping machines then being used required four men to operate. They poured hot lead into a machine that produced curved plates of newspaper pages that were fastened by pressmen onto the high-speed web presses which spewed out the finished product. Among other Morrish demands was that foremen not belong to the union. Although the Oregonian said it planned to buy the German machine, the Journal had no plans to do so.The Journal could have opted out of the joint negotiations and continued to publish, thereby gaining in circulation and advertising on the dominant Oregonian. Newhouse had bought the morning daily in 1950 after the owning family had died off and trustees were managing it. The New York City media magnate had long coveted the Journal because he wanted a newspaper monopoly in Portland.

THE UNIONS SAID that the Journal stuck with the Oregonian in the negotiations because the ultimate goal was to sell the Journal to Newhouse. The Journal trustees, picked by the last of the Jacksons, were attorney William W. Knight, the Jackson-appointed publisher; a prominent attorney, David L. Davies; and a U.S. Bank of Oregon executive, LeRoy B. Staver. Curiously enough, the strike began just six weeks after the completion of the probate court process of the will of Maria Jackson, who had died three years earlier at age 93. Completion of probate meant the trustees were in unfettered charge of the Journal.

The newspaper strike involved 850 men and women who belonged to nearly a dozen local unions. Most of them honored the Stereotypers Local 49’s picket lines. Members of many unions not involved in the strike turned out in solidarity to help the newspaper unions maintain mass picketing completely around the one-square-block Oregonian Building at 1320 SW Broadway St.

Pickets also jammed the sidewalk in front of the twin-towered Oregon Journal Building on SW Front Avenue near the riverfront as a symbolic gesture. The Journal executives and scab staff had moved into the Oregonian Building. Today, the Big O is still in the marble palace on SW Broadway, but the Journal’s twin towers are long gone and that part of SW Front is now the Naito Parkway. Sam Newhouse bought the Journal in 1961. His sons stopped publishing the p.m. paper in 1982 a few years after his death, apparently feeling sure no one would start another afternoon paper.

THE STRIKE DID NOT STOP the Oregonian and Journal from publishing because the papers had prepared for a walkout and had production scabs on hand on Nov. 10 and more on the way. For the first six months the two struck dailies published joint editions — typographical monstrosities — carrying the front-page nameplates of both. Production of the scab papers in the Oregonian Building was ramrodded by a young cousin of Sam’s named Donald Newhouse. Don was a graduate of the famed Massachusetts Institute of Technology who had been dispatched to Portland several years before the strike in order to learn how to run a newspaper production department. By the time the strike began, Don had learned his job. He was so much younger than Sam that most strikers thought he was a nephew of the elder Newhouse.

Within a few weeks after the strike began, Multnomah County Sheriff Francis Lambert, a fishing buddy of some Oregonian executives and a friend of others at the newspaper, went to City Hall to see Mayor Terry D. Schrunk, his predecessor as sheriff. Lambert — later scornfully nicknamed “The Sheriff of Parcheesi” — offered to assign his deputies to relieve the Portland Police Bureau as the policing agency of the picketing. However, Lambert’s scheme was foiled by Mayor Schrunk, who rejected the offer. Schrunk had earlier been president of Fire Fighters Local 43 and a delegate to the city’s central labor council. The mayor and newspaper strike leaders easily figured out that Lambert’s angle was to take over policing of the mass picketing and in a day or two to announce that the pickets were violently out of control and demand that Governor Mark Hatfield send in the Oregon National Guard.

EVEN IF THE GOVERNOR REFUSED, the scab Oregonian-Journal could print big headlines and front-page editorials trumpeting the sheriff’s request for the National Guard. The headlines and editorials would smack the strikers and their unions with public-opinion black eyes that would never heal.

The inside word was that the idea of the sheriff taking over policing of the picketing had not been thought up by Lambert but instead was urged on him by one of his fishing pals, a Republican stuffed-shirt named Herbert Lundy. Angler Lundy was the influential editor of the editorial page at Newhouse’s Oregonian, the Portland a.m. daily — Oregon’s largest newspaper with sizeable circulation in several adjoining states. In a later article, I’ll tell how two reporters for the Portland Reporter accomplished something that filled Lundy with dismay, but I don’t think he ever knew who had caused his distress.

PUBLIC OPINION swung to the side of the strikers. Tens of thousands of people cancelled their subscriptions to the struck newspapers. To encourage cancellations, the newspaper unions sent members to canvass the Portland metropolitan region door-to-door. The strikers’ side was explained in prize-winning editions of the Labor Press which were distributed by the canvassing union members. The Portland Inter-Union Newspaper Strike Committee broadcast radio and television commercials that told the strikers’ story to the public in Oregon and Southwest Washington.

The pages of the scab dailies were closed to the unions’ side of the newspaper labor dispute. The Oregonian regularly printed anti-union strike editorials on its front page. They were written by the paper’s sanctimonious, over-rated managing editor named Robert C. Notson.

He did not sign the editorials but his authorship was apparent because of his turgid style of writing. Notson also authorized the drawing and publishing of a cartoon by the Oregonian which equated union membership with being a burglar. A grateful Sam Newhouse Sr. later promoted him to publisher of his Oregonian newspaper.

THE STRIKERS’ SIDE was broadcast to the general public on television station KGW-TV, Portland Channel 8, by newsman and commentator Tom Lawson McCall, who later was elected governor of Oregon. Because of his fair coverage of the strike, the strike-born Portland Reporter tabloid gave McCall a tip that let him be the first to break the news of the August 1961 sale of the Oregon Journal to Newhouse. The union-busting publishers of the Oregonian and Journal, blustery Mike Frey and hard-drinking Bill Knight, respectively, were denying the sale right up to the time of McCall’s scoop. Frey was a former loud-mouth circulation boss of his paper and Knight had been an anti-union labor negotiator for the Journal and other papers.

Influential Oregonians (people, not the scab newspaper) — clergymen, Republican Governor Mark Hatfield, Democratic U.S. Senators Wayne Morse and Richard Neuberger and others — were urging the struck newspapers to settle the strike. Hatfield offered to mediate a settlement but the two struck papers told him he didn’t know enough about labor relations to be a mediator. A couple of years later the still-scabby Oregonian criticized Portland Iron Workers Local 29 for turning down Hatfield’s offer to mediate a Northwest Iron Workers’ strike.

WITH LOCAL AND STATE LEADERS urging the struck-but-still-publishing newspapers to settle the strike, the strikers were hopeful an end to the nearly three-month dispute would soon come. But instead came the boom-boom-booms of Sunday night, Jan. 31,1960. Around midnight, six newspaper delivery trucks parked on a lot in Oregon City were dynamited and almost simultaneously five trucks used for delivering newspapers were dynamited on a lot in Northwest Portland. The trucks were parked and out of service and no one was hurt. The trucks were miles from the Oregonian Building and were not owned by the Oregonian or Journal, but were owned by companies that did contract hauling for the scab papers. The dynamiting did nothing to harm the struck papers and did nothing to adversely affect their production. So, as the mystery writers ask, “Who dunnit?”

Another article in this series will appear in the next issue of the NW Labor Press.

(Copyright 2003)

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