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Two views of the newspaper strike


Dennis Nazelli’s letter

Jack Lessenberry, self-absorbed labor muse, launched another abstraction at the Detroit newspaper strikers ("Labor and other pains," MT, Sept. 6-12). His latest carp was hidden in a well-deserved tribute to Doug Fraser. To contrast union tactics from the past and today, Jack callously divagated, "... in recent years unions send their troops out to commit suicide, as in the Detroit newspaper strike."

Please explain to Lessenberry that suicide is taking one’s life, while laborcide is the planned, systematic act of exterminating union members. The News and Freep began planning the 1995 extermination of their unions before the ink was dry on the 1987 Joint Operating Agreement between the two newspaper owners, Gannett and Knight Ridder, and the U. S. Congress.

Five years later, the striking unions are still alive and kicking corporate asses. Today Detroit is a stronger and less-divided labor town than ever before. We never considered putting a knife to our collective throats. Suicide was never an option. The struggle for working-class values created a much healthier labor pulse. And our solidarity is a perfect 140 over 80. Lessenberry, you (still) don’t know jack about the Detroit newspaper strike. So stop carping about it. —Dennis Nazelli, Locked-in Newspaper Worker Teamsters Local 372, Detroit

Lessenberry responds:

Having been enlightened at last about the strike, I look forward to Mr. Nazelli explaining to me just how Custer actually won the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Fact is, the newspaper unions did in fact effectively destroy themselves. Granted, the people running the company were ruthless corporate pigs who wanted to provoke a strike. But the unions let their enemies pick the place and time of the fight (July; when profits are low and they had replacements already standing by) and launched a strike without adequately preparing the membership for it, so that the line-crossing started almost immediately, mainly on the part of guild members who had bought a tie and hence concluded they were of the elite. The unions would have done better to have stalled, engaged in all sorts of psywar tactics (clogging toilets, etc.) and then gone out on Nov. 1, just as the big Thanksgiving ads were starting to roll in. But instead they let management find out they could get a paper out without them, and that was the end of the unions, whether they still "exist" or not.

Now you have the possibility of a decertification vote, something that wouldn't have even been imagined in 1994. So thousands lost jobs forever, and we have two dogshit papers. I think labor doesn't need any more such victories.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Send comments to

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