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.