Report on attempted blockade of newspapers by striking workers and their supporters. Originally posted to Filler Collective.
A group of roughly 40 people from multiple different unions, community organizations, and autonomous groups delayed a shipment of Post-Gazette papers for roughly two hours beginning at midnight Saturday April 1st.
I am not a Post-Gazette worker. I am someone who joined in on the picket line and invited a few friends to come along. I supported this action because I support improving material conditions for working people and what semblance of workplace democracy unions provide. I also believe that inserting anti-authoritarian ideals and confrontational tactics into struggles while also showing care for peoples’ wellbeing is generally a good practice, and can open doors for knitting struggles and organizing efforts together.
Showing people what is possible works better than telling them what they should do, in my experience. I don’t care about converting people as much as I do building a shared foundation, creating material lines of solidarity, and communicating radical ideas in easy-to-understand ways. Ideally, I’d rather see the Pittsburgh Union Progress overtake the Post-Gazette and be an outlet for news and stories that aren’t beholden to the perspectives of rich, reactionary assholes. So helping striking workers get their demands met while trying out tactics, honing skills, and building social infrastructure seems like a fine way to spend a Saturday night.
A little before midnight, a group of striking union members gathered at a Post-Gazette facility located on 2350 Seco Road in Monroeville, PA and stood watch in a parking lot near the entrance of a loading dock where the delivery a papers was meant to go.
Shortly after, a handful of masked people appeared on foot in the loading dock parking lot then moved and stacked pallets across the entrance driveway of the loading dock. These people then left on foot. Another group of union members and supporting individuals arrived on site shortly after midnight.
Post-Gazette circulation manager Jerry Rooney and employees of Phillips Group Inc. (a security company) arrived not long after. Phillips staff arrived via vehicle, peeled around the side of the crowd to the people standing in front of the pallets, and began filming. One person in the crowd turned on a bright, blinking flashlight and aimed it into the camera. Security left and came back on foot and continued to observe and film the crowd.
The truck arrived around 1 am and the picket moved forward to stop it. Not for the last time, Jerry unsuccessfully told the driver to roll through the crowd. Monroeville police were called and approximately 8 officers arrived on scene. They mostly observed and did not attempt to intervene. Their intermittent searches for whoever was “in charge” proved fruitless, in part, because no one was; and everyone who engaged them was ready to tell them so.
Shortly after, Jerry and what we presume were independent delivery drivers began to clear the pallets positioned behind the crowd. A handful of people in the crowd tossed pallets right back in the way. This was hilarious. Some officers moved near the pallets and observed the situation.
Cops told who they thought were leaders that the crowd needed to move to let the truck through. Word spread. Some people moved. Most did not, so the truck stayed put. Jerry encouraged the truck to pull forward towards the crowd. He did not. At roughly 2 am, the truck driver, who had been talking with Jerry on and off this whole time, pulled the truck into the front parking lot.
It was full of waiting “independent” delivery drivers. The driver expressed that either the Post-Gazette employees and delivery drivers needed to unload the papers or he was taking them back to their point of origin. It should be noted that the front parking lot does not have a loading dock.
Over the course of the next half hour, union members and supporters heckled Jerry as he worked to unloaded the pallets of papers and lower them from the lift and into the parking lot for delivery drivers to them take them to their cars, all while police and security stood and observed. Picketers also exchanged words with delivery drivers. Some drivers verbally acknowledged that the Post-Gazette and Block family treat them poorly and do not care about their well being. Some seemed upset at the strikers. Some just kept their mouths shut and kept calm.
As delivery drivers received their papers, some supporters and union members left the area, while others stuck around and attempted to block delivery drivers from leaving. During the time between the papers being mostly unloaded and the delivery drivers leaving, police started to leave the area, but returned as people threw pallets around the empty side lot. This drew cops back to people blocking outgoing carriers.
One delivery driver threatened to shoot some people on our side. Cops told picketers they didn’t care who had a gun as they ran back across the parking lot, and let the self-proclaimed potential shooter go. The driver and seemingly Jerry had told cops that picketers had threatened to shoot them. This was a lie. Jerry suggested to the same driver that he should runover a person standing in front of his car.
Between some people leaving and police becoming more agitated at people making sure fellow picketers got out, the entire picket had dispersed by 2:40 am on April 2nd.
The Monroeville police are Teamsters and there are Teamsters on strike at the Post-Gazette Strike. This probably played into the more hands-off disposition of the police but certainly didn’t keep them from threatening to arrest people for trespassing. While this is a factor that should be recognized for strategic and tactical purposes, we should never assume that the police in this situation (or in any situation) are “on our side.” Ultimately, police unions shouldn’t be accepted in the labor movement. Even in this tame situation, they were the primary deterrent to success and potential success. Outnumbering them is still probably the safest route.
If there were 20 more people onsite, or if people had moved a little quicker with more decisiveness, we probably could’ve stopped the trucked from pulling into the front entrance. And we think the driver probably would’ve called it a night if we had. We should work to turn more people out.
There could have been better communication between crews when improvising tactically. There was a moment when a bunch of people left the truck-stopping line to throw pallets. This was helpful but it also left the line vulnerable to the truck pushing forward in that moment. Had the driver, police, or security been more aggressive, this would have been an opportune moment to break the line. It’s wise to be water and adapt tactics on the fly. It’s also wise to communicate on the fly to make sure bases are covered.
Phillips Group Inc seems to be tasked with filming and “building a case,” rather than physically preventing people from carrying out actions. There is probably a limit to to their non-intervention, but I think they are more interested in filming for legal reasons and to potentially generate anti-union sentiment in the future.
I think this action went as well as it did because no one was “in charge.” People had a common cause but also had different limitations, backgrounds, comfortability, etc… People engaged in different ways to support the goal based on what they are able to give. We should support this and support people who make tactical moves or take tactical risks even if we choose to take a different course of action.
The Post-Gazette has at least 5 such distribution locations in Allegheny County. One each in Monroeville, Pittsburgh (Gateway View Plaza), Canonsburg, Cranberry Twp., and S. Fayette Twp. The paper gets delivered twice a week, for Thursdays and Sundays , the night/early morning before/of each. None of the 5 sights are particularly easy for a large truck to get into, or hard to block with a determined group of people.
photo: Claudio Schwarz via Unsplash