Labor has been in the news
over the past year, with strikes at a number of high-profile
companies. Strike stories have consistently included common themes,
but have also consistently excluded one important theme: union
violence. At the national news networks, violent acts by strikers
aren’t considered newsworthy.
Staples of network strike
stories over the past year include:
The plight of the
striking workers and of the American worker in general. Already
predisposed to believe that workers in the U.S. are oppressed,
strikes give reporters a news peg to air their views. During the
Teamsters’ strike against UPS, for instance, CBS economics
correspondent Ray Brady twice criticized the U.S. economy for
producing too many part-time jobs. Focusing on workers who "have no
choice" but to work part time, Brady reported that "across America
the number of part-time workers is skyrocketing." Later, he saw
"signs of a backlash" against part-time work.
But as MSNBC’s Phillip
Harper pointed out at the time, "According to the Labor Department,
a full 80 percent of [part-time workers] aren’t interested in
full-time work." The situations of such workers, including students,
homemakers, and retirees, don’t fit into the media’s strike story
The problems strikes
create for other workers and/or customers. This is a theme
especially during strikes at large companies. During the UPS strike,
for instance, all three networks focused on companies that were
being crippled because they relied on fast shipping. The disruptions
to passengers also dominated coverage of the recent strike by pilots
at Northwest Airlines.
The point of view of
business. The networks’ record of reporting the point of view of
business during strikes is spotty. During the August 1997 UPS
strike, some of the most basic arguments put forth by the company
were missing from news reports. For instance, the company argued
that it could provide its workers with better pension benefits if it
didn’t have to subsidize competitors’ workers through the Teamsters’
pension fund. For the first full week of the strike, no network
story mentioned the pension issue.
This summer’s United Auto
Workers (UAW) strike against General Motors (GM), though, was
different. ABC’s Jim Williams noted that "auto analysts say GM has
no choice but to trim a work force so bloated it cannot compete with
other auto makers." NBC’s Robert Hager added that GM was plagued by
"old, inefficient" operations that couldn’t compete with lean,
efficient Ford and Chrysler factories.
But one part of the real
story on strikes rarely gets reported at the national level: union
violence. Striker violence is deemed newsworthy only by local news
outlets, which might be understandable if such acts of brutality
were isolated. But David Kendrick, of the National Institute for
Labor Relations Research, writes that his organization has recorded
8,799 incidents of union-related violence in the U.S. since 1975.
Such incidents, according to Kendrick, include at least 181 deaths
and more than 5,600 assaults, kidnappings, and threats, "almost all
committed by striking union militants."
This nationwide trend has
gone unnoticed at the networks, as have efforts to curb it, such as
the proposed federal Freedom from Union Violence Act. A Nexis search
reveals that even the print media have ignored this legislation:
There have been no stories on it in the past 18 months in the Los
Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The New York Times,
Newsweek, Time, or U.S. News & World Report.
Stories about strikes in
particular, and unions in general, should include this dark aspect
of organized labor if they are to be complete.