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Labor relations

From 'unionite murderers' to 'safe, secure and unionized,' a compendium of editorials past.

September 03, 2007

The Times has not been organized labor's best friend over the years, nor has labor always been kind to The Times. In the earliest decades of this city and its newspaper, The Times furiously defended Los Angeles as an open shop, establishing it as a business-friendly counterpart to unionized San Francisco. When the American Railway Union launched its historic strike in 1894, The Times "stood fast, stood firm, stood true," its city editor recalled a few years later, "for law and order." In those days, anyone who read The Times knew that "law and order" meant opposition to labor and all who supported it.

Labor exacted its revenge in 1910, when union activists planted sticks of dynamite in an alley next to The Times building. The blast killed 20 employees, and although labor denied involvement, The Times did not for a moment doubt who was responsible. The next day it pointed the finger at "unionite murderers." Its vitriol was vindicated when the perpetrators confessed.

Over the years, the animus between The Times and labor subsided, if ever so gradually. In the 1950s, Publisher Norman Chandler was able to boast that he had never once negotiated with a union leader. In 1970, the paper cautioned state employees against striking but acknowledged the legitimacy of their worries about then-Gov. Ronald Reagan. By 1986, it was calling for cooperation between labor and management as the only "certain way to build a more prosperous economic future benefiting all Americans." And in 2006, this page featured an editorial under the headline "Safe, secure and unionized," words our forebears would never have dreamed of putting into print. Today, The Times regards organized labor respectfully, if not always enthusiastically, and appreciates that unions are an established and animating fact of this city's political and civic life.

And so, on this Labor Day, we revisit a tradition of excerpting editorials from these pages in order to reflect on this newspaper's long and sometimes troubled relationship with labor. We do so with acknowledgment that the past often has been heated, but with the hope that the future continues our cooling trend.

Oct. 2, 1910

To the owners, editors and managers of The Times, nothing connected with the explosion is so deeply distressing as the suffering which the inhumanity of the unionite brutes has caused to the widows and orphans. Women who, on Friday evening, kissed their husbands good by as the latter left for their night's work, are, in some cases, denied even the sight of the men, for their bodies remain amid the ruins. Never again will the children climb "the envied knees to share," for they have been deprived, by the unionite murderers, of that blessed privilege.

Nothing can palliate this awful deed, so terrible in its effects, and we have only horror for the assassins who have stricken down the heads of a number of families, happy until yesterday. Terrible outrages have been performed in the name of labor unionism heretofore, but we cannot recall one of so heart-rending a character as this. It seemed, until yesterday, impossible to believe that men could go to such extremes, could resort to such inhuman tactics, could wantonly bring sorrow upon innocent women and children, merely with the idea of obtaining revenge against The Times.

Oct. 3, 1919

The mania to organize the whole world into unions goes on apace. Every day some hitherto unheard-of class of the world's population jazzes into the news with the announcement that it has organized itself and has applied to Sam Gompers for a charter. . . . When this universal unionization is accomplished it will be interesting to note the effect of that popular diversion known as the "sympathetic strike."

Let us suppose, for instance, that the potato peelers' union in a big hotel gets sick and tired some day at the very sight of spuds and decides to strike. And suppose things do not go very well with the strike, and the walking delegate of the potato peelers decides to call out other unions in sympathy, what happens then?

First of all, the union that has in charge the work of picking the hairs out of the hash throws down its tools, then the dishwashers' union quits, then the chambermaids, the waiters, the clerks and the barbers and manicures. Promptly, then, the managers' union and the proprietors' union strike, and finally the guests' union up and strikes to a man.

All that remains to be done after that is for the burglars' union and the yeggmen's union to step in and finish the job.

Aug. 6, 1922:

Both the railroad strike and the coal strike have suddenly taken on an aspect of increased violence. . . . By hurling bombs and trying to beat men to death they have created an unassailable position against themselves. After seeing their strike-breakers endure this danger, suffer these outrages, how could the railroads, in common decency, deny them rights of preferment over the men who are bombing them?

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