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Scabbing for the Huffington Post

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I have a Facebook friend who is a prominent liberal activist and writer. He tells us on his website that “My labor experience dates back to working as a staff organizer in Las Vegas for the Hotel Employees & Restaurant Employees (HERE) International Union starting in 1988, then serving on the Executive Board of UC-Berkeley’s Association of Graduate Student Employees (AGSE/UAW) in the early 90s, serving as an appointee to the Berkeley City Labor Commission for a number of years, organizing a labor-environmental network (the California Network for a New Economy), organizing community support for labor struggles in Northern California, and serving in the national legal department of the Communication Workers of America. This past year I worked in a union-side labor firm in New York City.”

Recently he wrote a series of articles on “Google and the costs of lost privacy.” These appeared on Huffington Post. To help publicize his work, he put a reference to them on his Facebook page. I was surprised to see that he was writing for Huffington Post when there is a boycott by writers and labor unions against the online newspaper. When I told him so, he took umbrage, posting that there was legitimate disagreement among “labor folks” about the Huffington Post boycott and that “labor folks” like Dean Baker, Robert Reich, and Jared Bernstein were not honoring the virtual picket line around the newspaper.  Besides, he said, this isn’t a strike or boycott called by the workers at Huffington Post, the implication being that this isn’t really a labor dispute whose picket line must be honored.

Here is what the National Writers Union says about the boycott:

There has been a strike and boycott against the Huffington Post since last March, led by the Huffington Post Union of Bloggers and Writers (HPUB), the National Writers Union (NWU) and the Newspaper Guild (TNG). Please honor the electronic picket line; dont post or share articles on the Huffington Post until this is resolved.

In the short-term, we are trying to win a settlement for the hundreds of journalists who contributed their work for free in order to bring more traffic to this “progressive” blog. These were journalists who worked on assignment, under editors. After establishing a progressive brand and following based on this free labor, Arianna Huffington sold HuffPo to AOL for $315 million, and landed a $4 million/year job as content director for AOL.

She and AOL owe these hundreds of writers, and we are working towards reaching a settlement. But even more important, we want to set a standard for a living wage for all online writers we can take to other content farms, like Demand Media, worth $1.5 billion that pays its 9,000 freelancers a penny-a-word. In the process, and in order to win these demands, we are building a bigger and more powerful NWU.

HuffPo was built by the unpaid writers who filled it with fresh content that made it stand apart from the rest. Arianna Huffington says that writers should be glad to write for free in exchange for free exposure. But it is the Huffington Post that reaped and profited from free exposure brought by these writers. AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka, and the Presidents of the UAW, CWA and USW are honoring the boycott as is Jobs with Justice. There’s a lot at stake. We are fighting to shape the future of digital journalism. Don’t cross the picket line.

This sounds like a labor dispute to me, with strong support from people in labor unions and writers who want paid for their work. Sportswriter Dave Zirin, who unlike Dean Baker, Jared Bernstein, and Robert Reich, earns his living as a writer, supports the labor boycott.  He says,

Ms. Huffington is creating a new editorial business model built on the desperation of the 21st century journalist. It’s a business model that enriches itself by selling the snake-oil that, for a writer, ‘building your brand’ is an end unto itself . . . I think it’s dangerous for the future of our craft and I ain’t gonna work on Arianna’s farm no more. The virtual picket line should be respected for this reason alone.

I’m with Dave here. Liberals like my Facebook friend seem to work under the assumption that there is always a compelling reason to throw working people under the bus if there is a chance that the greater good they claim to be striving to achieve can be pushed ever so slightly forward. By their logic, Dave Zirin would better serve the progressive cause by writing for the multitude of Huffington Post readers than adhering to a pure but naive principle. I disagree.  Everything that is wrong with this society—the low wages, the poor social services, the astonishing inequality, the enormous prison population, the multiple forms of alienation, and many others—has its root cause in the exploitation of working men and women. Ariana Huffington is an exploiter, and as such, is an enemy of the working class. There is a labor action against her paper, so it is the duty of “labor folks” to support it.  If people know about this and they write for Huffington Post, then, to put it bluntly, they are scabs.

9 Responses to Scabbing for the Huffington Post

  1. Gilles d'Aymery July 15, 2011 at 7:16 pm #

    Mike,

    I’m 100 pct with you on this issue. Writers, working for free, created the Huffpost brand. Then Arianna H. cashes in big time and gets a huge yearly salary. She ought to share the dough — or part of it — with the writers.

    It’s like selling Swans (it ain’t going to happen), reaping a hefty profit and not sharing any of it with all the writers who contribute their work for free and make Swans what it is. Sure, I created the publication and I built it (with Jan) over the years, bringing writers to contribute on a regular basis. Sure, and I work hard at it. But, again, without the contributors there would not be much of anything on Swans but my ramblings…

    Your Facebook friend is indeed a scab.

    L’union fait la force.

    Best,
    Gilles

    • mike July 15, 2011 at 8:03 pm #

      As always, Gilles, a thoughtful post. Thank you. The writer Scott McLemee made a fine point when he said, “Not writing for a publication that doesn’t pay seems to me like the easiest expression of solidarity ever.”

  2. Ben Courtice July 15, 2011 at 11:19 pm #

    I’m with you. I’ve read good stuff on HuffPo in the past but no respect for Arianna Huffington over this episode. What a carpetbagger. And that cartoon you posted is gold. I sure hope it isn’t copyright cos I’m gonna lift it for the next picket line I’m on!

  3. Todd July 18, 2011 at 1:10 pm #

    Hm. Not too sure I agree with London’s populist crap: scabs scab because they’re like most people: frightened and/or ignorant and/or desperate, not because they’re born that way.

    (For the kneejerkers reading this: that’s _not_ an endorsement of scabbing. Scabs should stay out of or be kept out of strikes.)

  4. Mark Culleton July 20, 2011 at 12:54 am #

    Michael, your argument is relevant to Huffington, but Todd has a point. Both of my Grandfathers believed that doing Henry Clay Frick’s business was job one and when the Western Pa. Mines went on strike, they broke the strike by boxcaring desperate Southern Blacks into their mines.

    In time the Black population increased and the rest is history. Soon all had access to available occupations. This large influx of Blacks from southern states has been hallmarked by incredible accomplishments for African American workers. Their path to success is rooted in their grandparents being scabs.

  5. Todd July 20, 2011 at 6:48 pm #

    Michael wrote:

    “What are picketing workers to say, ‘Oh, I see , you need to be a strikebreaker so it is OK?’ Get real here.”

    Michael, did you read what I wrote?

    “For the kneejerkers reading this: that’s _not_ an endorsement of scabbing. Scabs should stay out of or be kept out of strikes.”

    Michael then wrote:

    “To argue that scabbing is sometimes a necessity for survival is irrelevant to the use of the definition in a labor struggle.”

    Funny, I don’t recall the definition of a scab being Cowardly Evil personified (or nothing human, for that matter) in my dictionary.

    I’m a little disappointed that someone who so well understands and can explain how human beings fit into the structures dictated by capitalism doesn’t have a problem foregoing how to explain to the masses that scabbing isn’t an essential character flaw mandated by an Almighty.

  6. mike July 20, 2011 at 3:13 pm #

    Thanks, everyone, for your comments. But I think that some are missing the point that London’s definition of a scab is a propaganda piece, and it has been used by unions in organizing campaigns and in strikes for many years. To argue that scabbing is sometimes a necessity for survival is irrelevant to the use of the definition in a labor struggle. What are picketing workers to say, “Oh, I see , you need to be a strikebreaker so it is OK?” Get real here.

    The fact that blacks were sometimes recruited as strikebreakers is not relevant to the use of the definition of a scab by Jack London. And black workers sometimes refused to scab once they found out what was up. They made exceptional union members when allowed to be such. It was not their employment as scabs that led to their success, but rather their own organization, in the CIO unions (mainly in the communist-led or dominated unions such as the Packinghouse workers) and in their civil rights organizations.

  7. Martin July 20, 2011 at 11:21 pm #

    Good nailing of neo-liberal hypocrisy, but then the hsrder stuff gets more troublesome. I, for one, would never have posted on Huffington Post, even if paid scads of money by Ms. Huffington, because even a cursory look at her resume pre-HuffPo would reveal a complete poseur, an Ayn Rand devotee, bizarre cultist, fake populist no-account. Now, she’s not alone – I would never write for the Nation, nor the New York Times, nor Vanity Fair, nor for Counterpunch, for various and well-established doctrinal reasons. Why drag your good name through such slime?
    There are good and fine and worthy pieces published in all of these venues, even New York magazine has some real investigative political journalism, but working within capitalism means that affiliation, when voluntary, needs to be well -chosen, and there are pure egregious violations in each venue, to include Mother Jones, that would preclude a non-money-grubbing writer from seeking the editorial stamp of these mountebanks. Dave Zirin used to go on some CNN or MSNBC monstrosity to be exploited/patronized by soulless jerks – what’s the gain to be treated as a freak by corporate advertising shills?
    I also boycott Facebook, and Google, use Paypal just for pennies- you see the mess this can lead to, though the Huffpo seems quite straightforward.

  8. mike July 20, 2011 at 7:21 pm #

    Jeez, Todd, you are making too much of this. London is using hyperbole to make a strong point. The UFW’s Teatro Campesino used to do a playlet based on the definition of a scab. The audience knew not to take it literally. The idea was to make people think about what it meant to cross a picket line. Do you think anyone who does cross a picket line would later read London’s definition and think he or she had a character flaw ordained by god? I doubt it. These days, most workers have little sense of solidarity in any event, so it hardly matters now what London said. On another level, I use an image for each blog post. I thiought that this was an appropriate one. You think otherwise. We’ll have to disagree on this.

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