The New York Times took a cursory look at and provided an overview of the "We Are One" labor rallies that occurred across the United States on April 4. They were one of the few major media outlets that even bothered to do that. Some of the pro-union rallies were not as successful as others, but there were hundreds and in some instances thousands at rallies and teach-ins across the country. And although many local papers and news stations covered the events, the national news remained aloof. Yet, just a week before, when a few hundred Tea Party members descended on Washington to threaten budget compromise-oriented Republicans with challenges in the next election, every major media outlet ran stories -- sometimes numerous stories (read: CNN and Fox News Channel).
Even the stories that were broadcast or written were overshadowed by the connection to the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's assassination, including the Times article, which was entitled "Unions Rally, Linking Their Cause To Dr. King." Union leaders and organizers of the rallies promoted the tie-in (Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis when he went there to march in support of the black sanitation workers' unequal pay), with emphasis on the rights of individuals being disregarded and the need for a united effort to confront those attempting to take away hard-won wages and benefits. But the unions and their reason for rallying became an aside or background filler for most outlets -- if it was reported at all.
So what about all those thousands of people across the nation protesting against the recent incursions into collective bargaining and union-protected workers' rights by Republican-led governments in states like Wisconsin and Ohio? Didn't they deserve at least half of the time afforded the Tea Party and their "tens of Partiers" (Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's description of the D. C. rally)?
The labor rallies and demonstrations were also a show of solidarity between the union workers, their supporters, and the unemployed, the 99ers and those still in the unemployment benefits system, who seem to have been denied a voice in government even though the jobless situation in the U. S. has shown relatively little improvement over the past year.
Why didn't their stories merit pages and pages of newsprint, website content, and airtime on both the local and national level?
According to the "We Are One" website, over 1,200 events had been organized around the country. On various websites championing the jobless, the long-term unemployed, and the 99ers (those who have exhausted regular and extended unemployment benefits), the word went out to join with union activists and demonstrators at the local venues. April 4's "We Are One" rallies were meant to draw attention to the what is seen as a growing problem in the U. S. -- the increasing powerlessness of the American worker and organizations created for their collective protection.
Or perhaps union members have already become part of the "forgotten millions," the term New York Times columnist Paul Krugman labeled the long-term unemployed. It certainly would go a long way toward explaining how so many people brought together in concert across the U. S. could be so easily dismissed by the media.
Perhaps if the unions one day become as newsworthy as the Tea Party, that grassroots political movement that has unseated and nearly unseated hundreds of legislators, they will be able to also threaten the jobs of national leaders and be taken seriously. Because, like the Tea Party, they did threaten the jobs of elected officials, although it doesn't seem to have caused a stir like the pronouncement from the conservative organization. Still, the New York Times deemed it worthy enough to report.
Larry Cohen, president of the Communications Workers of America, said, "We’re putting all employers and all elected officials on notice that we’re mobilizing as we haven’t in decades."
In decades... Perhaps it is that dormancy that caused such complacency among workers and supporters of unions that it led to legislators in various states introducing and passing measures abrogating and obviating workers rights that took decades or unionized negotiation to win. And perhaps it is that dormancy that has resulted in the almost complete dismissal of a story that should have been covered by all the major news outlets, especially in light of the recent (and ongoing) budget battle and collective bargaining dispute in Wisconsin.
Maybe mobilizing as they haven't in decades will accord labor unions and the unemployed workers of the country the power that once demanded the attention of political parties and news organizations. Perhaps if they billed themselves as an anti-Tea Party movement?
Until then, the once powerful labor unions and their supporters (and the "forgotten millions," many of whom once were union members) will apparently have to rely on blogs and the occasional local press report -- and the cursory New York Times article -- for coverage of their rallies.