On what would have been former Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham’s 100th birthday in June, the Post ran a story that continues the paper’s decades-long effort to rewrite the history of the 1975 pressmen’s strike. This article is in response to the Post story.
“Never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel,” Mark Twain advised. In 1975, a hard-nosed union did just that – and lost.
On the face of it, it appeared the 200 pressmen from Local 6 of the Newspaper and Graphic Communications Union had some advantages. They were, after all, the ones who turned those barrels of ink into the printed pages of The Washington Post. It was dirty, dangerous work but it gave the Post’s pressmen leverage: if they went out on strike there’d be no newspaper.
Much to the chagrin of Post management, the pressmen – who were located in the basement of the old Post building blocks from the White House – didn’t just use this leverage to improve their own lot, but also that of the newspaper’s other unions.
“The pressmen, particularly, were giving us a lot of problems,” Post publisher Katharine Graham wrote in her Pulitzer Prize-winning memoirs. “What it came down to was that, after years of concessions to their union… of surrenderings in order to avoid a strike at all costs, we were no longer in control of our own pressroom.”
“They had a feeling of immense power down there,” said Lawrence Wallace, who led the Post’s negotiations with its labor unions. “Everything that is produced here in the newsroom, in advertising, funnels right down over that folder on that press.”
Wallace was brought to the Post as a get-tough-on-the-unions guy in 1973, two years after the newspaper went public, which would prove a turning point.