• authored by Members for Democracy
  • published Sat, Sep 7, 2002

A Free and Independent Press is the Lifeblood of the Power Source

"He who first shortened the labor of copyists by device of movable types was disbanding hired armies and cashiering most kings and senates, and creating a whole new democratic world..." - Thomas Carlyle

In 1452 (or thereabouts) Johann Gutenberg, a German goldsmith, invented the printing press. The world would never be the same. Movable type made the mass publication and circulation of written material - ideas and information - possible. A wave of major ideological, social and economic revolutions followed.

... intellectual life soon was no longer the exclusive domain of church and court, and literacy became a necessity of urban existence. The printing press stoked intellectual fires at the end of the middle Ages, helping usher in an era of enlightenment. This great cultural rebirth was inspired by widespread access to and appreciation for classical art and literature, and these translated into a renewed passion for artistic expression. Without the development of the printing press, the Renaissance may never have happened... What civilization gained from Gutenberg's invention is incalculable.

Interestingly, the Guttenberg's press was shunned by the elite of the middle ages who considered printed material (as opposed to the handwritten manuscripts) to be vulgar - something more suited for the poor. "It fell to the lower classes to recognize the importance of the printing press. And they did - by the end of the fifteenth century, more than one thousand printers had printed between eight and ten million copies of more than forty thousand book titles".

The ability to communicate ideas and information widely and freely set in motion the events that brought us democratic government. Revolutionaries in Europe and North America made extensive use of the free press to define their issues, communicate about them and build public understanding and support. The rest, as they say, was history.

The American revolutionaries who paved the way to the war of independence were especially passionate about a free and independent press.

Much of the success of the newspaper in the early United States owes itself to the attitude of the founding fathers toward the press. Many of them saw the free press as one of the most essential elements in maintaining the liberty and equality of citizens. Thomas Jefferson said he considered the free press even more important than the government itself: "Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter." It was because of this attitude that freedom of the press gains mention in the First Amendment to the Constitution, and though early politicians, including Jefferson, occasionally made attempts to reign in the press, newspapers flourished in the new nation.

So committed were the founding fathers to the concept that they enshrined in the constitution of their new republic specific protections for independent media. "Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech or of the press..." - Article One, Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution, 1789.

The idea endures to this day. To protect ourselves from or to get out from under the yoke of powerful elites, it is essential that we are able to communicate among ourselves - freely, widely, in our own language, about whatever we want.

The community of workers needs its own independent media. The mainstream media, although free in the sense that it is not subject to state control (well, not officially anyway), does not serve our interests. It will not allow us to get out from under the yoke of those who oppress us. It serves their interests, in fact.

Any working person who has ever tried to get the attention of the mainstream media about an issue that concerns their workplace, their union or their ideas about the workplace, knows the meaning of indifference. With few exceptions, working people who have stories to tell or ideas to share are told that it's just not news.

Even though there are millions of us out there, we are invisible. Take a look through any mass circulation newspaper, magazine or any media broadcast and you won't see much about us. Reporting about workers and their issues is limited to a narrow spectrum: Strikes, lockouts, mass layoffs. That's about it. In each instance the story is a standard blurb about dates and numbers with a couple of scripted quotes from official spokespersons thrown in for that human touch. Worse still, the story is almost always cast as a "business" story. Events that are turning the lives of thousands of people upside down are happening but it's not about the workers, it's a business thing.

To the mainstream media, working people are neither news nor worthy. We warrant a bit of attention when really bad things happen to us but even then we are just the footnote. Most bad things that happen to us are not reported. If we are bilked out of millions of dollars by businessmen or business unionists that's not reported - we're not supposed to have money. If we are denied basic legal rights, that have not reported either - it's too complicated. If we are denied a decent living that's sometimes reported but it's just business.

If coverage of events that affect us is negligible, reporting on what we think, what we feel, how we think it should be, is non-existent. The mainstream doesn't care or doesn't want to know or both.

Evolving our own independent media is essential if we are to engage the future. Our own free press will give us a voice, tell our stories, enable us to talk about our lives and allow us to define what is important to us. It will allow us to grow as a community.

Our own media will come about through our own efforts. Our unions - at least those in the mainstream of organized labour - aren't helping. Official union communications media are not outlets for workers' expression. They are, for the most part, promotional vehicles for union leaders and their ideological packages, tightly controlled by senior union officials. Reporting on events that impact workers' lives consists mostly of media releases targeted at the mainstream media (the vast majority of which are ignored). Surf around the various mainstream union sites and see for yourself. How many feature material written by working people, how many promote interactive discussion, how many allow workers' expression?

In the beginning, as so often is the case, there were the words. They were cheap to produce, fun to say, and you get to look good.
Darryl Gehlen in D.I.Y. Banner Brigade

But we are not invisible - we are real. We are not appendages of the organizations that employ us or represent us. We are autonomous individuals. We live. We think and have ideas. We are not footnotes for business stories, or props in legal decisions or statistics to be studied, meat for somebody else's ideological grinder.

Media Without Dogma

We need to communicate among ourselves - and there are millions of ourselves out there - about what is happening to us, what we think, what we want freely - without the oppressive shadow of somebody else's dogma.

Our mission here at MFD is to provide a venue for that kind of communication. To this end we seek to:

  • Present the stories, views and ideas of people who work for a living without regard to their occupation, union membership or ideological orientation.
  • To provide opportunities to working people to write, report, create and present their own material.
  • To engage the community of workers and to encourage working people to be engage each other.
  • To create the conditions under which revolution can happen.

Think we're kidding? Have you noticed how our stories that deal in-depth with workers lives generate the most discussion and action? Have a look at the threads in MFD forum that deal with real live situations involving layoffs, strikes, certification or choice of union - look at what people are saying, how much they are saying and how quickly others (whatever their views) become engaged.

Check out the items that deal with the situation at Loman's warehouse, several of which were featured this past week. This is a great example of worker's media. These workers - about to be sacrificed at the alter of corporate greed - are talking about what it's like to be there, their hopes, their fears, their analysis of the situation, the actions they are taking. This week's DIY Banner Brigade, interview with Tom Smith are communications by and for working people that you will be hard pressed to find in any mainstream media or mainstream union publication.

Eloquent, forthright and compelling - this is what worker's media should be and - is.

Who is more likely to engage us? Who understands the issues? Who can teach us about activism? Paid propagandists or we ourselves?

Want to write for MFD?

We've got a good thing going with our web site and we're not going away. The MFD community is growing and is just bursting with people who have a lot to say.

Now's our opportunity to create something that is very much lacking in our larger community: A real voice for working people. The media of the Power Source. It will happen if we make it happen. The more of us who participate, the sooner it will happen, the better it will be and the more visible it will make workers and their issues.

Tell us your news. We know you have some, probably a lot and we know you can communicate about it.

You don't need to be professional writer. If you can write readable post in MFD forum, you can write a brief item about an issue or event. A couple of paragraphs maybe all you need to give the world the lowdown on something that's going on where you are.

You don't need to identify yourself. You can, of course, write under your own name if you want to but pseudonyms or anonymous pieces are OK.

You can contribute what you want, when you want on whatever subjects you want.

The sky is really the limit in terms of what the news is. Don't think about what the corporate media considers news. We'll never have any news if we do that.

Tell us what you think. What about what's happening around you? What kind of workplaces should we have? What kind of unions do we need? What would you do if you were President of your local, national or international union?

This how we can build the media of the Power Source.

More about independent media for people who really made things happen:

Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. - Thomas Jefferson, 1787.

For my part I entertain a high idea of the utility of periodical publications; insomuch as I could heartily desire, copies of ... magazines, as well as common Gazettes, might be spread through every city, town, and village in the United States. I consider such vehicles of knowledge more happily calculated than any other to preserve the liberty, stimulate the industry, and ameliorate the morals of a free and enlightened people. - George Washington, 1788.

Here is the living disproof of the old adage that nothing is as dead as yesterday's newspaper... This is what really happened, reported by a free press to a free people. It is the raw material of history; it is the story of our own times. - Henry Steel Commager, preface to a history of the New York Times, 1951.

A free and independent press is the lifeblood of any democracy. - Nelson Mandela

Our contributors expressing themselves this week:

Worker activist Tom Smith talks about communicating with his Local President

MFD: What contact do the workers have with Brooke Sundin [Local 1518 president] and Ivan Limpright [sec-treasurer]?

Tom: Brooke we haven't seen him. Ivan we've seen him twice. I believe they're both on holidays.

Last time I seen Brooke was at the GMM. I was very upset with the level of knowledge in the stores. How green those people are, [they don't know] what union they belong to, what their rights and obligations were as union members. And I came down on Brooke for it.

At the end of the meeting I tried to talk to him and he wouldn't talk to me. So I don't know where Brooke's at. I tried to apologize for getting angry. I sat up front, and I got very angry. I had got dirty looks from my union brothers and sisters in the stores. I had dirty names called to me by the same union brothers and sisters. I was very upset. I talked to people in the stores, couldn't tell me what union they belonged to, and I wondered what is it these business agents do. They can't be representing members that don't know what union they belong to.

I was asking Brooke you know what do these people do. Give me a truck full of contracts. I'll go educate the members. And after the meeting I went up and tried to apologize for getting angry. I tried to explain why I was feeling this way and he put his hands up and said I will not talk to you. So there's the president that I pay will not talk to me.

Loman Life
"How does the mainstream expect to get workers excited about supporting organized labour when this is the kind of indifference and bungling workers encounter...?"

As far as I can tell they don't really want workers to get excited about organized labour. These guys are and they have called attention to what the problem is: the leeches at the top who forgot that unionism is a movement for and by the people, not a business model

Once all the workers are "restructured" into the low-wage part-time model, solidarity and involvement should become much less of a nuisance. Then all that is required is the low cost rhetoric and any increases to the workers impoverished lives will be heralded as a triumph of unionism.

Corporatized unions will never correct corporatized unionism.

It's been so long since real unionism has existed that people who work for a living don't have a real understanding of what it will take to wrest back control of their working lives.

In the short run for especially egregious cases, an existing union from within the corrupted system may be the immediate answer. However, any union that operates on the corporatized or service model may have to be dramatically ripped from the system and forged into a leaderless vehicle that can carry people who work for a living to freedom and prosperity.

If you really want change then you have to change your thinking about what a union is and should be. The history of the IWW will give you a foundation and attention to technology, and "glocalism" (read the above link for an explanation) will create opportunities for freedom and power not available to existing union structures, models and hierarchies.

remote viewer
It seems to me, from everything that I've read about the activist workers at Lomans, that this - everything that these workers have done so far - is as good an example of grass roots activism, solidarity and going to the wall for your brothers, as we're ever likely to find. This is the kind of activism that the leaders of the mainstream labour movement whine is lacking out there in the worker community and within the ranks of their members.

Power is derived from KNOWLEDGE not literacy. You can read and write all you want but if you don't understand, you have no power. Literacy enables the masses to gain knowledge.

If the CLC wants to promote power and participation, its honchos had best promote complete freedom of information, transparency of machine and machine-head activities, freedom of association and shop floor participation in the democratic process.

Scott McPherson expresses himself through story telling:

Uniondale was quaint little town of 250 people founded more than 30 years ago and located on the banks of the Atelier River. It was voted the second best place in North America to raise a family and build a life and with the exception of a heated election 10 years ago that seen a new mayor elected it was primarily a very peaceful town.

Uniondale had one very prominent citizen who lived at the top of Monarch Mountain overlooking the whole Apothecary Valley. Mr. Usef C. Dubya was an old and trusted friend of all Uniondalians and many sought out his advice on any number of issues affecting the town. He was often looked to for guidance and leadership in times of crisis and was thought of as a sort of caretaker for the community.

At the height of the rainy season last spring several communities north of Uniondale were flooded out when the Atelier River overflowed it's banks. With the unrelenting rain everyone recognized Uniondale would suffer the same fate if immediate steps were not taken to protect the town from the rushing water headed their way. So the town [as it had always done in the past] turned to Mr. Dubya for direction. Surely with his prominence and influence throughout the countryside he could find much needed volunteers to aid the community in building a wall of sandbags high enough to hold back the cresting river. With his vast resources of wealth they even counted on Mr. Dubya paying for and bringing in heavy equipment to speed up the work. So the chief of police and his deputy's drove up to Mr. Dubya's house as fast as they could while the rest of the town got started.

Surprisingly Mr. Dubya didn't seem all that anxious to help. His favourite movie was on T.V. that night and he'd been looking forward to curling up in front of a fire with a cup of hot chocolate and enjoying the movie. In his mind the river was coming and his toiling over it wasn't going to change that and really what difference could his help make anyway? The Chief mentioned the need for heavy equipment and Mr. Dubya cut him off before he even finished. He was not going to authorized the use of his company's equipment for such a futile endeavour and furthermore "that anyone would have the nerve to think they could presume to expect" him to do this was asinine. "The consequences of him making an excepting this one time could potentially be enormous "if the guys start getting the idea that they can use his companies equipment anytime they wanted.

The chief then suggested Mr. Dubya use his influence and connections to elicit outside support and manpower to aid in the effort to save the town and again Mr. Dubya rejected this idea. Bringing in outside support wasn't practical and besides they had more than enough existing manpower to get the job done. Then the police chief asked if Mr. Dubya would pitch in and after mulling it over Mr. Dubya not so enthusiastically accepted. After all, his house was protected due to location and altitude but he did feel some sort of obligation to help his fellow Uniondalians. But he needed to find his raincoat, rubber boots and a pair or wool socks [to keep his feet warm] before he headed out. Without inviting anyone inside while they waited Mr. Dubya closed the door and left the police chief and his deputy's outside on the porch. Some valuable time passed as the men anxiously waited outside. They were growing increasingly impatient with the unnecessary delay and they were needed back in town. Precious time was being wasted waiting for Mr. Dubya.

Finally Dubya came back outside and said he was ready to pitch in. When they got to town the chief asked him to grab a shovel and start filling sand bags. It was then Mr. Dubya noticed he'd forgotten his gloves and suggested he'd better return for them. With too much time already been wasted already and the wife of one of the deputy's offered him her gloves but Dubya declined. He was a gentleman and couldn't expect a lady to work without gloves while he protected his hands. Then a deputy offered his and likewise Mr. Dubya declined. He didn't want to risk catching a rash and insisted on returning home for his own.

So the chief asked him to join the line and pass along the finished sand bags for stacking. Gloves weren't needed for that job and they really couldn't continue to stand around wasting time. Mr. Dubya did just that but after only a few min he was ready for a break. He wasn't used to all the physical activity and his production [or rather lack of] was negatively affecting productivity. So it was suggested that Mr. Dubya just stand back and offer encouragement for the hard working Uniondalians. But this seemed very demeaning for him and insulted he demanded to be taken home where he could enjoy his evening after all. Fed up with his shenanigans the chief of police took him back home.

The next morning the river crested and because the flow of the rushing water was so fast most Uniondalians were swept away by the river and the town was flooded. Only a very lucky few managed to make it far enough up Monarch Mountain to stay out of harms way. As news of this tragedy spread and news crews began to question Mr. Dubya about it he smiled in front of the cameras and spoke of the tragedy and how it would always affect him. He mentioned that he'd done everything he could to help but his sacrifice just wasn't enough. He'd miss his fellow Uniondalians but life must go on. He was just grateful his home and his family were spared.

Good night. ;)

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