Censoring Labor (Sep. 27, 2006)

Most people, of course, work for a living. They spend at least half their lives working and, in fact, define themselves by their jobs. They obviously would be interested in — and obviously need — expert information on a regular basis about that most important aspect of their lives.

But the news media in effect censor that vital information. Their primary attention is not focused on those who do society's work. With the rare exception of such issues as the attempts to raise the minimum wage, or on special occasions like Labor Day, the media generally are not concerned with workers’ daily efforts to make a living. The media concentrate instead on the corporate interests and other employers like themselves who finance, direct and profit from the work.

Workers’ attempts to get a greater share of the profits and better working conditions by using the only effective tool available to them — collective action — are given only slight and frequently biased media attention. Strikes are an exception, but that coverage is usually concerned mainly with the strikes’ adverse effect on the general public.

Given their complexity and importance, collective bargaining and union activity generally should be among the most thoroughly and fairly covered of all subjects. Once, most newspapers had labor reporters to provide extensive if not always fair coverage. I was one of them, covering labor on a daily basis for the San Francisco Chronicle in the 1960s and for the PBS outlet, KQED, in that city in the early 70s. But almost no papers have such specialists today. With a very few exceptions, radio and television stations have never had them.

At most papers, labor coverage has been turned over to the business section. Since the material there is meant for readers who have a particular interest in business and a generally negative view of unions, the stories naturally are slanted that way by business reporters, who have little apparent understanding of labor.

The business pages typically downgrade, distort or simply ignore union views. They show little concern for general readers, including those who support unions or might want to if they had the opportunity to read thorough, balanced and expert accounts of their activities.

How about describing the country's major labor federation, the AFL-CIO, as a “trade association.” Or referring to democratically elected union leaders as “bosses”? The Chronicle business page has made those petty but illustrative gaffes and, like the rest of the mainstream media, far more serious gaffes.

The list of important labor issues that have been ignored — censored — is seemingly endless. To cite just a few examples, the media:

• Frequently note that union membership is declining while failing to report that a principal cause is failure of the federal government to adequately enforce the laws that supposedly guarantee workers the right to unionize without employer interference.

• Fail to report numerous other anti-union actions of the Bush administration, including its virtual non-enforcement of most other laws designed to protect workers.

• Rarely take notice of the on-the-job hazards that cause 6,000 deaths and more than two million serious injuries a year, and the need to strengthen and adequately enforce the job safety laws.

• Ignore labor's role as an advocate for the working people, union and non-union alike, who make up the vast bulk of the population, by characterizing labor as a “special interest.”

• Almost never report the views of union members and leaders on the major issues of the day. The views often are voiced at meetings of local labor councils and other union bodies that reporters ignore, while routinely seeking out the views of corporate and business executives.

• Pay little, if any, attention to many major union campaigns. Most recently, that’s notably included a nationwide drive to get McDonald’s to guarantee decent pay and working conditions to the impoverished tomato pickers whose work is essential to the hugely profitable fast-food industry.

So, despite the great importance of labor, despite most people's vested interest in it, despite the need to inform them fully about it, the media provide little that’s of real value to them in their working lives, and much that's prejudicial to their collective action.

4 Responses to "Censoring Labor (Sep. 27, 2006)"

  1. Betsy Cawn   November 10, 2019 at 7:45 am

    SOLIDARIDAJ! Excellent explication of the biz bias and workforce despond. SEIU “In-Home Supportive Services” workers in Fresno engaged in active protest of the fact that they have not received a dime’s worth of income increase in 10 years, with Dolores Huerta leading the charge. SEIU as a worker’s advocate usually sucks, in my experience as a life-long union supporter — and at the same time, low-level labor forces have no other advocate. [I’m archiving your fine essay for future reading on our radio broadcasts in Lake County, and other forms of “outreach” for the PEOPLE, who are now held hostage by the 1% and its ugly American “representatives.” Thank you so much, Mr. Meister.]

    As always, long live the AVA~

    Reply
  2. Betsy Cawn   November 10, 2019 at 8:02 am

    Prior to the 2019 “Public Safety” power droughts, we asked the Director of our Lake County Department of Social Services to communicate directly with the locally registered “IHSS” workers about (1) the necessary actions that homebound seniors who rely on “electricity-driven, life-sustaining durable medical equipment” (oxygen, dialysis, and other machines, and (2) the resources available at senior centers to assist in-home caregivers and their older adult clients. The Director’s response was that the Department was not able to do that, because of the UNION rules. The Lake & Mendocino County representative did not return my phone messages, so that I could obtain facts about that claim, or determine how to otherwise communicate with that workforce.

    On October 31, 2019, our new Public Health Officer (Dr. Gary Pace) described the fact that by day 3, the county was “running low on oxygen” and the Public Health Department was creating an emergency “medical respite shelter” model for supplying dependent persons with the medically-administered assistance they need. Transportation for these individuals (and having vehicles/fuel/mobility at hand — plus the lack of communication with them to inform them of the availability of that resource) is equally problematic, even with the support of our wonderful Lake Transit agency.

    Finally, the City of Lakeport declared a state of emergency — pursuant to California Government Code Section 680.9 — due to health and safety risks and inadequate support from PG&E (lousy generators and missing generators needed for moving raw sewage to treatment plants, among the other lacunae), which then forced the Sheriff’s Office of Emergency Services to take the same action.

    Discussion of adequate conditions for disabled at-risk populations were the subject of discussion with the Lake County OES, Department of Social Services, American Red Cross, California OES, Lake Transit, and others in FEBRUARY of this year, at which time the Red Cross liaison to Lake and Mendocino Counties reported on their unproductive/ineffective action taken to date to identify all locations and capacities for “Care & Shelter” facilities and services for “Access & Functional Needs” in the county, given the scarcity of “qualified” facilities and the co-occurrence of disasters interfering with the school operations (the primary sites for most “official” disaster relief shelters).

    Please explain how the UNION has the authority to prevent direct communication with its members, or how the County Department of Social Services and Office of Emergency Services are bullshitting us, if you can. Anyone . . . ?!

    Reply
  3. Betsy Cawn   November 10, 2019 at 8:05 am

    Maybe Mr. Marmon knows . . .

    Reply

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