The NewsGuild-CWA has a lengthy history in the pursuit of the importance of social justice. Starting with Heywood Broun, who wrote a column calling for a union for journalists, the Guild has always been out front advocating for human rights. Historically, Guild conventions, whose delegates are elected by local members in a secret ballot, routinely adopt resolutions calling for equal rights and laws for all citizens.
Members of the American Newspaper Guild, as it was known in 1963, took part in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where Dr. Martin Luther King gave his famous “I have a dream” speech. At the time, the rally was contentious within the labor movement, with support from only about one-half of the unions. Guild members were resolute in supporting the rally which called for both jobs and freedom for blacks. Since the late 1960s, the Guild has stood firmly behind efforts calling for gender parity in hiring – a goal that, sadly, has still not been completely fulfilled. In newsrooms, the Guild fought to get rid of job definitions that relegated women to the social pages of writing at reduced pay. Even as recently as the 1980s, reporter jobs at many publications were not available to women, who were given the title of Society Editor but were not paid on par with editors nor reporters.
Guild members have long participated in LGBTQ fights and the Guild was one of the first unions to achieve same sex domestic partner coverage for employees.
Sometimes, members who work for media properties avoid issues that can be viewed as political, fearing that their participation will give the appearance of not being objective. Yet, activism can take different forms across locals and even among members of a local. All members can participate as a union member in supporting human rights.
For those members who feel they must abstain from participating in activities around particular issues because of their work, there is much to be done in so many areas to participate in. For example, the Guild promotes literacy campaigns in schools and communities. There are other efforts at the community level that members can participate in that are not deemed political.
There are other issues the Guild supports that may be controversial, but are important for the union to actively work for. For example, by supporting immigrants’ rights or having attended the Women’s March on Washington, Guild members are fighting for fundamental human rights.
On a national level, The NewsGuild does more than promote activism. Through bargaining, the Guild fights back employer efforts to narrowly define the right of members activities outside of work time. Although many publishers and business owners are well known for their political exploits, many would deny their workers even their first amendment rights. As a part of that fight, we have substantial experience in negotiating ethics policies and helping to allow for participation as citizens for things that matter to members.
The Guild is currently engaged in the substantial fight for credible journalism, which is under attack from all sides of the political spectrum. Is it the liberal press or the mainstream press? It is neither – our members are hard working journalists that deliver well-researched information that people can rely on. To produce journalism that is trusted, Guild members should be engaged, and should want to be involved, in pushing back against those that defame a fair and free press for their own political gains.
And, let’s be honest, without allies, the Guild cannot be successful in efforts ensure quality media jobs. It would be wrong to expect others to show up for issues important to us if we don’t support their issues. So, we will not apologize for well-articulated positions on many issues, and partnering with others that fight for social justice. It is our duty, whether as journalists or in some other job, and as citizens. We will only preserve our ability to have unions – real democracy in the workplace – if we engage.