Monday, May 20, 2013

Time to Declare Economic Independence & Claim Creative Frededom!

Nearly thirty-five years ago, in the fall of 1978, I was hired by the N.Y. Newspaper Guild to work as a freelance writer and editor on independent, alternative newspapers the Guild was publishing in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Earlier in the year, unions representing  pressman, typesetters, machinists, photoengravers,  and commercial employees, including drivers, declared a strike against the owners of the three major New York City newspapers, as well as affiliate newspapers in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The Guild, representing more than 4,000 reporters and editors, shortly thereafter joined the strike in solidarity. 

The ostensible reason for the strike was to protect union members' jobs from  being replaced by new technologies and automation. Instead of asking management to retrain workers in the use of these new technologies, the union demanded that their jobs -- even if outdated -- simply be retained until those workers retired. A futile and misguided endeavor that was pursued only because it had worked in the past.

Past is the key word here.  

Members of The Guild, however, depending on their age, saw the strike and the alternative newspapers in a different light.

Roughly speaking, if you were over thirty-five, you saw the alternative newspapers as just another  bargaining chip to help union leaders resolve the issues with management and achieve the union workers' demands. Again, the model for this was in the past.  

At the same time, if you were a Guild member under thirty-five, you saw yourself as not merely helping to publish  a temporary 'strike-newspaper',  but that you had just been handed an extraordinary opportunity to create an independent newspaper that one could then own, manage and work at.

The alternative newspaper came about because  of the  technological advances that were replacing pressman and typesetters . Micro-computing, still in its infancy, allowed one to literally create a digital newspaper from the back of a truck (which we did) anywhere you were (in  NY, NJ, or Pennsylvania)  and then drop it off at a local printer and voila! -- instant newspaper on demand.  Being young and idealistic at the time, I fancied us as some sort of modern-day  heirs to Thomas Paine with his self-published pamphlets advocating free-thinking and independence from economic tyranny (Common Sense).

The Guild had not financed a strike since the 1960s, so it had a considerable 'war chest'   (over a decade's worth of union dues monies) to invest in publishing and distributing the alternative newspapers. It did so in good faith for four months; and we worked day and night, taking time off only when we felt the long hours were taking a toll on our skills and denigrating our product.  

I wish that I could report a happy ending, but in the end, actually,  the Old School Guild Members weighed down our efforts to put out independent newspapers. Instead of pitching in, they complacently waited for the corporations and/or unions to settle their differences and once again take care of them by letting them go back to the simple 9-5 lives they were used to.

I was so pissed off at  their lack of initiative and foresight to not seize on such a  once-in-a-lifetime  opportunity that when the strike ended,  I felt they deserved what they got. Next to nothing. I watched grown men who had worked 20 or 30 years for a newspaper whimper away like scolded school kids clutching checks  for 2 or 3 grand. 

For there was a new kid on the block, and a new breed of owner named Rupert Murdoch who not only did not have any sympathy for unions or workers, but disdained them. The unions were crushed, and their members were forced to accept early retirements for ridiculously low buy-out packages that included cuts to their cherished health-care benefits and pensions. 

So what's the lesson to take away from all of this? 

I think the most obvious lesson is that in this day and age, the twenty-first century, one should no longer be so naive  as to expect a corporation or union to 'take care of  you' for life.

My father was a union member at a time when skilled laborers like him (without even a high school education) could own a home, buy a new car every few years, and give his children the opportunity to go to college. Those days are over now, and will not come back.   When  people would chide my father for paying union dues to a 'syndicate' run by the allegedly corrupt (he can no longer speak in his own defense) Jimmy Hoffa, my father would retort: 'Sure, Jimmy Hoffa is a thief.  But he's a good thief -- he doesn't take everything.'  There's more than  a grain of truth in that, which  no longer holds true for the persons controlling our present economy. There are people in our midst who would, literally, like to take it all -- or at least 98% of it. I know I've posted this video before, but if you haven't watched it, or want to watch it again, please do: Economic Reality 101

I'm not advocating waving flags of surrender in the face of this grim collapse of unions and  consequent wealth-grab; quite to the contrary, I'm challenging and inviting you to take control of your own creative destiny and financial independence.  

Here are just a few of the resources I've found that can help you do that:

Crowd-funding for your work or project:  Centup,  Kickstarter, Indiegogo,   
Long term loan/investment: PAVE  
Social Entrepreneurship: Ashoka Center,  Resource Generation, Skoll Foundation

There are plenty more.  I'm not a union or corporation so I'm not going to try to find them all for you.

Please share what you learn on my Facebook pages:Advocate for Economic Fairness!
                                                                              32 Beach Productions

I'll leave you with this from Thomas Paine. (I think he was talking about economic dependence): "A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right."

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