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Dirty-faced David & The Twin Goliaths
One of the country’ more bizzarre labor disputes pitted a crowed of outraged newsboys against two powerful opponents—Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolf Hearst
April/may 1985 | Volume 36, Issue 3
The publishers badly needed police protection for the army of scabs, thugs, and assorted toughs they had hired to get the papers on the streets. When their supply of available adults was exhausted, they sent their agents to the Bowery lodging houses with the offer of two dollars a day plus commission for any man who would sell Worlds or Journals . The boys followed the agents into the flophouses to explain their case. According to a story in the July 23 Sun , the bums agreed to support the boys: “I’m a Bowery bum … and one of about a hundred that’s signed to take out Worlds and Journals to-morrow. But say, we ain’t a-going to do it. It’s all a bluff. We told them scouts that we’d do it when they offered $2 a day, but everyone of us has decided to stick by the newsboys and we won’t sell no papers.”
“I’m trying to figure,” a striker said, “how ten cents on a hundred papers can mean more to a millionaire than it does to newsboys.”
Those few who appeard at the newpaper offices the next day did so only because they found a way to make their two dollars without breaking the strike. As they left the offices with their papers in the streets; then, after a short while, they returned to the publishers, demanding their money. “Say, dis is easy,” one of them told a Tribune reporter, “it’s a reg’lar cinch. But don’t give it away. I wouldn’t be doin’ it but 1 needs de money.”
The only trouble the boys had was with the women who owned their own stands. Though Annie and “Mrs. Cry Baby, the only name by which they have ever known the eccentric German newspaper woman who is a familiar figure at the [Brooklyn] bridge entrance,” were with them, other newswomen around the bridge entrance, while pretending to support the boys, had “been caught selling the boycotted papers, hauling them out from under their shawls when they are called for by customers. This base deceit has angered the boys very much, but they are at a loss to find a remedy,” the Sun reported.
” ‘A feller don’t soak a lady,’ said Kid Blink, ‘and yer can’t get at them women’s scab pape’s without soakin’ them.’” The best they could do was to threaten the women and try to coax customers away from them.
The boys we’re well aware of the value of public support. To publicize their cause, they took up a collection and, with the eleven dollars they secured, printed up thousands of circulars to stuff in the nonstruck papers and to distribute in the streets and at the bridges, train stations, and ferries.
For the boys and the public who read about their strike, the highlight of the two weeks was the mass meeting held at New Irving Hall on Broome Street. Some five thousand boys from all over the city shoed up to shout their support. The two thousand who were able to squeeze into the hall were greeted by Frank Woods, a former newsie who had become the Polo Grounds announcer. A few local politicians saluted the strikers, songs were sung, striker cheered, and scabs booed.
The newsboys speakers played to the larger public through the reporters from the nonstruck papers. Early in the evening the chairman, conscious of the effect favorable reports might have on building public support, asked the reporters present to please refrain from qouting the speakers as saying “ ‘dese’ and ‘dose’ and ‘youse.’”
Bob the Indian, one of the first speakers, predicted victory but pleaded with the boys to keep the violence down. “Now I’m to tell yer that yer not to soak the drivers any more. … No you’re not to soak ’em. We’re a goin’ to try to square this thing without violence; so keep cool. I think we’ll win in a walk—on the level I do.”
Kid Blink, one of the strike organizers, urged the boys to stick like “glue” and, a moment later, like “plaster.” “Ain’t that ten cents worth as much to us as it is to Hearst and Pulitzer who are millionaires? Well, I guess it is. If they can’t spare it, how can we? … I’m trying to figure how ten cents on a hundred papers can mean more to a millionaire than it does to newsboys, an’ I can’t see it.”
The boys cheered speaker after speaker. Crazy Aborn told how the circulation managers had tried to bribe him; Newspaper Annie shouted her encouragement; Dave Simons, president of the union, presented the assembly with a set of resolutions to vote on; Warhorse Brennan, the oldest newsie, and Jack from Park Row saluted the boys. Racetrack Higgins reported that the Brooklyn boys had hired a band to lead them over the bridge to Irving Hall but were prevented from “parading” by the police commissioner, who denied them a permit. The last scheduled speaker of the evening was “hungry Joe Kernan, the newsboy mascot [who] sang a pathetic song about a one-legged newsboy.” When the meeting ended, reporters covering it felt that the boys were reinvigorated and ready to carry their strike to its conclusion.