Wednesday, December 21, 2005


NYC Transit Stike: Press bias against labor

It's easy to cover the NYC Mayor Bloomberg's outrageous accusation that transit strikers are "thugs" (Really? That sweet lady I remembered in the token booth who was always glad to give me directions? A thug?). What's harder would be to avoid the popular and very deliberate targeting in the press of unions as the sole cause of the inconvenience caused by the dispute (usually referred to, of course, as a "labor" dispute).

Coverage of the NYC transit strike seems to be no exception. The acts of the MTA that brought about the walkout are omitted entirely or played down. What chicken journalism this is.

When news media cover a strike, or even a threat of a strike, they often seem to play into and reinforce the common belief that strikes are the fault of labor, that union workers are causing us the trouble. Bad unions! Bad!

The immediate cause of inconvenience is that the workers have left their posts and so the trains won't run. But they are not there because they want to have a day off, or because they are thoughtless of the trouble and even monetary loss that the action causes others. As workers, they are more sensitive to these losses than the management side, which raises the issue only for leverage against the union, not because they care about anyone's well-being. And the press gobbles it up. (Turkey journalism?)

It takes two to sign a contract. It can be said that the trains are not running because of MTA's unwillingness to do what it has to do to keep them running. Or that they put the pension issue on the table illegally and too late for the union to deal with it through negotiation. Why, then, is not the press blaming the MTA for the gridlock in the streets? The MTA has failed to act responsibly in dealing with their own workers. When they do that, and precipitate a strike, there are consequences to the public. Consequences of the MTA's acts.

Yet we never hear, never never in my experience, that the inconvenience is caused by management.

This is a PR strategy that is ages old, and one that consistently paints labor as the root cause of trouble to the point that it has become the common assumption.

The strategy goes deeper. Here in Honolulu it has become impossible to discipline or dismiss guards in the childrens' prison because of provisions in their contract. Certainly, any guard who abuses a child should be held accountable. That they cannot be dismissed is a result of a very poor contract. It takes two to sign a contract, and the State of Hawaii has done a particularly poor job of it, and so bears responsibility for its inability to provide a safe environment for its juvenile charges.

However, the media blame only the union.

The stage has been set decades ago for the attitude that strikes are the work of unions and they are bad and disruptive. It's probably too much to expect the consolidated and right-controlled media to reverse this view of labor and to produce a fair description of events. Bloggers outnumber pundits right now, let's see what we can do.


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