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Thursday, December 21, 2006

Striking it rich, part 3

A long, violent strike - and a monopoly

The strike didn't begin until 10 November 1959. The day before, Leo McCoy, who specialized in such newspaper problems, received a call by prearrangement at this office in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. "Get as many people to Portland as fast as you can," he was told. Within hours, three planes carrying fifty-nine well-seasoned strikebreakers, many toting rifles and shotguns, were on their way.

Early the next morning, a picket line was established outside the Oregonian building, and at nine o'clock the Oregon Journal's top people arrived to hand over the paper's masthead and its other typographical furniture. For the rest of the day and into the afternoon, a makeshift crew led by Don Newhouse struggled to put together a twenty-four page newspaper. "It was pretty poor typographical product," recalled Bob Notson, then the paper's editor and later publisher," and the printing was uneven. It looked strange with two flags on it. But it was a paper."

Late that afternoon, when the Oregonian-Oregon Journal rolled off the presses, Newhouse achieved his goal. In the process, he had helped create the worst labor battle in Portland's history.

The wait for the end of the Portland strike turned out to be longer and more violent than anyone had expected. As far away as Oklahoma and Florida, strikebreakers' homes were attacked, and in Portland delivery trucks were dynamited, with all sorts of lesser sabotage being perpetuated inside the newspaper plant. Nearly a year after the strike started, on the evening of Sunday, 16 October 1960, an unidentified gunman severely injured Don Newhouse with a shotgun blast through the basement window of his house in the Portland hills.

All the while, Newhouse continued to dicker for the Oregon Journal, which ceased to be a legitimate competitor the moment it agreed to cooperate with the Oregonian. On Friday, 4 August 1961, its owners and their representatives agreed to sell for $8 million. Within the month, the Sunday edition of the Journal was gone, and the paper's remaining operations moved to the Oregonian's plant on Southwest Broadway. The strike continued, however.

Toward the end, Portland's mayor, Terry Schrunk, paid Newhouse a secret visit in New York. The unions, he said, were ready to go back to work. Newhouse immediately flew to Portland for a meeting at which he planned to help Frey arrange to accept the strikers' capitulation. But Frey wouldn't go along. He'd rather quit, he informed his boss, than let the unions back into his paper. So be it, said Newhouse, and returned to New York as quietly as he'd arrived.

(© Richard H. Meeker, "Newspaperman", p.195-196)

Part 5 in a series, "Newhouses and labor unions"

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