Readers Before Profits

These corporations have no loyalty to the city of Detroit, no respect for our culture as a union town, no concern for the Detroit strikers and their families who are in danger of losing their homes as the strike drags on. -Grace Lee Boggs, community activist

It has struck me more than once how thoroughly our response to the newspaper strike ongoing in Detroit has been shaped by a theological comprehension of the principalities and powers. It proves both illuminating and practical.

The situation is this: Last July, six unions representing 2,600 workers were forced to strike when the company demanded another round of deep job cuts and refused to operate under the old contracts while bargaining new. Almost immediately it announced the hiring of "permanent replacement workers."

"The company" in this case comprises the two largest newspaper conglomerates in the country. Gannett, owner of the Detroit News (not to mention USA Today), holds 81 other papers, by which it made profits last year of $636 million. Just a

week after the strike began, Gannett initiated purchase of Multimedia Inc. for $1.6 billion. The Detroit Free Press, meanwhile, is owned by Knight-Ridder, which has 27 other newspapers and took $170 million in profit for 1994.

Together their business operations are fused in a "Joint Operating Agreement," which pre-empts competition, reduces the work force, presents a single bargaining front, and last year earned profits of a million dollars a week.

It's clear the conglomerates are prepared to expend (pretax) losses of more than $100 million to bust the unions. That expense is already paying off in Philadelphia and Miami, where they are exacting substantial concessions.

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 1996
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