SAN FRANCISCO, Nov. 4, 1994 --Quick, for a chance to win a laminated piece of chain link fence autographed by an actual union member: What was the most important cultural articfact to emerge from the last newspaper strike, the one in 1968?
Rolling Stone magazine.
Happened like this. During the 1968 strike (which was extremely sweet-tempered and featured superior donuts for all sides), Ramparts magazine put out a strike paper. It had some Chronicle regulars; it had some wire copy; it had some new folks doing some new things.
Among the new folks was Jann Wenner, who did a kind of rock 'n' roll gossip column. Back in those days, Jann was actually a pretty good writer with a nice, tight style -- why he ever left that profession to become a multi- millionaire international publisher and power-broker is one of the great mysteries of life. Why, with a little luck, he could have become Joel Selvin and experienced first hand the comraderie of the picket line.
But I digress.
Ralph Gleason, the most respected popular music writer in town, saw the column and suggested that maybe, think of it, a whole magazine could be devoted to rock 'n' roll. The rest is publishing history.
The moral is obvious -- undoubtedly the most significant thing to emerge from the current strike will be this publication right here, the fine and fabulous Free Press, one of whose writers could very well go on to become a kingpin or queenpin of publishing. Venture capitalists, keep your eyes open, and please send for my free prospectus: "Stationary Stone: The Magazine for Boomers Who Like To Nap."
Being on strike is not a bucket of laughs, but it does have one advantage: You get to be the star in your own movie. The culture is in favor of working class heroes; very few movies have been made featuring heroic executive vice presidents crushing underpaid librarians for the good of the bottom line.
"Chief, chief, the goons from Detroit are here."
"Thank God. If these guys are thuggish enough, we'll be able to pay real dividends this quarter!"
"Gosh, boss, we'll really stomp some copy editor ass now."
"Please, Sparky. In these offices, please use hyphens even in private speech. We're going to kick copy editor a-- ."
Not exactly the stuff of populist legend. Nobody wants to be the guy in with the pencil-thin moustache in the thousand-dollar suit -- at least, not many people do.
The strike is a sad deal all around, but at least one side has a long and honorable history to fall back on. Doesn't pay the rent; handles the karmic mortgage, though.
In other strike news: There is evidence that you can take the professional off the job, but you can't take the job out of the professional. I was picketing with Nanette Asimov, education writer for the Chronicle. Some rent-a-vans featuring cowering executives pulled up.
"Management are scum!" I yelled. It's a fine old union yell.
"Management are scum?" asked Nanette. "You mean, management is scum?"
"I think." We stood there in the brisk sunlight for a moment. Cars driving by honked their horns. We both realized that we needed a copy editor.
"Solidarity forever!" Nanette yelled, cleverly avoiding the issue.
"My thought exactly!" I responded. Grammar is so very important in times of trouble.