Sarah tells Mike about media history, labor organizing, century-old moral panics — and the unlikely Disney musical that introduced her to all three. Digressions include Sting, "The Princess Bride" and 19th century graphic design. Both co-hosts recount their extremely millennial work histories.
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Sarah's other show, Why Are Dads
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Sarah: I feel like there's not enough attention paid in media to teen girls wanting to get into locker rooms and this movie really expresses that.
Mike: Welcome to You're Wrong About, the podcast that stares into the past and sometimes into the future.
Sarah: Ooh, I love that.
Mike: Ahh, right!
Sarah: I have actually changed topics on you, but that one that tagline is still relevant to the topic I've landed on. Don't worry.
Mike: Wait, what?
Sarah: You have seen into the future.
Mike: Wait, we're not doing the psychics episode?
Sarah: Well, we will soon, but yeah, not at this second. We're doing something perhaps even better.
Mike: I am Michael Hobbes. I'm a reporter for the Huffington Post, who has no idea what's going on.
Sarah: I'm Sarah Marshall. I'm working on a book about the satanic panic. I kind of know what's going on, sometimes.
Mike: And if you'd like to support the show, we're on Patreon at patreon.com/yourewrongabout, and you can find us in other places. And I'm rushing through this because I want to know what we're talking about today.
Sarah: Yay! Okay, so here's what happened with today's topic. I told you we were doing police psychics.
Sarah: And I was researching that and then I was like, you know, if I'm doing this, it really makes sense to get, start from the beginning and tell the story of the police.
Mike: Well, it is time that we talked about staying on this podcast.
Sarah: And I thought, well, that will be a really fun and harrowing journey. But before we do that, I would like us to do something on the cozier side.
Sarah: Because it's November and very little in this world is making me happy right now. But you know what does make me happy?
Sarah: That's true but also Newsies.
Sarah: I want to start with some Newsies background and then we're going to do the Newsboy’s Strike.
Mike: Okay, now my tagline is way off.
Sarah: No, I think your tagline is great and you will see how apropos it is, hopefully by the end of this episode. And then we'll discuss this apropos further in our second episode.
Sarah: Mike, what is the movie Newsies?
Mike: I know nothing, I haven't seen it. All I know is what you have told me on various bonus episodes, which is that I guess it's about little boys who sell newspapers and they sing and they go on strike at some point.
Sarah: That's very true, except for the script for little boys. Because while there are some little children in this movie, quite a lot of it is about strapping teen boys, including future Batman, Christian Bale.
Mike: Oh, I thought they were like five, okay.
Sarah: When I was a 15-year-old girl, I found this news very intriguing, when I first sat up and watched Newsies. And my fascination with Newsies in a nutshell is that Disney somehow produced a very pro-union, pro-labor rights, pro-beating up scabs movie in 1992. Disney. And it's also this unique example in nineties media of something that had something positive to say about unions and about labor rights. I mean, I think I'm speaking about my household, but I'm also speaking about sort of the American white middle class and the propaganda. There was this idea that like unions had gone too far.
Sarah: And they were just corrupt and like Jimmy Hoffa, et cetera.
Mike: That is absolutely the information that I grew up with, that unions were like this okay idea. But the auto unions had gotten way too radical and the teacher's unions, you couldn't fire anybody.
Mike: The public transit unions would go on strike and completely cripple cities. I mean, this was completely the rhetorical waters that I grew up in.
Sarah: And then coming into adulthood as a millennial and a workforce that is very different from the workforce, you know, that I was raised by much like the characters in Newsies like wouldn't it be nice if we had a union to protect us.
Sarah: And I feel as if there's, there's something about the millennial experience of being a content worker. That the people who made Newsies could not have anticipated, we’d resonate so deeply with the children that they made this movie for, because the, I mean, Mike, what does it mean to be in the business of creating content as a member of the millennial workforce?
Mike: You're like a gig worker, you do jobs for magazines and newspapers, and you agree on a price and then you write an article. And then they publish the article and then you harass them to pay you and it takes, I waited 18 months once to get paid for an article. And then, you know, you don't get health insurance, you don't get retirement benefits, you don't get disability. If you get the flu for two weeks, you don't get money for two weeks. I mean, it's just complete precarity.
Sarah: You know, another example is academia. The majority of university courses in the United States are taught by non-tenure trac faculty.
Sarah: Being an adjunct is essentially being a contractor at a university.
Sarah: Adjuncts in academia usually don't know if they're going to have a course the following semester, even if they're teaching courses now. And it's also common to be teaching at multiple institutions. When I was adjuncting at my Alma mater, Portland State, I and all the other adjuncts were kept at 0.49 FTE, which meant that we were slightly below the half time that we would have to be at to get health insurance.
Mike: It’s so dark, this is so common. When I used to be a contractor for Microsoft, they had a deal with the U.S. Justice Department over exactly these practices of basically using contractors as if they were full-time employees. And what they had to do is every year they would fire you and they would wait a hundred days and then hire you back.
Mike: That was what the justice department said, that if somebody is employed for more than a year, then you have to start treating them as an employee. And so instead of treating these people as employees, Microsoft was like, no, we're just going to create this baroque clockwork, weird system where we fire people for the minimum amount possible and then rehire them back over and over again. And I had colleagues who had done this for like eight years in a row.
Sarah: It's just that you're never really fully there.
Sarah: There are a huge number of gig workers in today's economy.
Mike: There's also a huge class of workers that are not gig workers, but still exist in the same precarity. The example you always hear is that a company like GM, you know, they have these massive factories, they have these huge operations with all these ancillary services and so there was a time when all of the cafeteria workers and like people who did laundry at GM, those all would have been GM employees, so they would have had similar pay scales. They would have been on the ladder to get promotions elsewhere into the company, and they could work themselves up into more corporate style jobs. Whereas now most large companies, everything is outsourced. So, all of the cafeteria workers at Apple’s main campus in California, they're not Apple employees, they're employees of like Food Services International LTD, or whatever. A lot of those people are making very low wages and they don't really have a ladder into these more stable forms of employment. Like there's no promotion. If you're somebody who cleans office buildings at night or hotels at night, you can't get promoted to like Westin Hotels corporate.
Mike: Because you're just on a completely different ladder.
Sarah: Yeah, and I feel as if people who run companies aren't always as stupid as they look. And I think they know what kind of conditions breed solidarity between workers and what kind of conditions make it much harder.
Sarah: And make organizing harder.
Mike: It's funny, I was just reading a policy PDF on this the other day and in the back and the recommendations, one of the bullet points was what needs to change is there needs to be a series of strapping, young teenage boys who are singing and dancing and talking about these conditions.
Sarah: I think that that's often what we're missing. And so this movie did very poorly when it was released. It was in theaters for either weeks or days.
Mike: I actually remember it coming out.
Mike: I remember as a kid wanting to see it, and by the time I sort of got up the gumption to actually make moves to go see it, it was gone.
Sarah: That’s the story of Newsies. Like three days later, everyone was like, “Whatever happened in Newsies?”
Sarah: And my understanding of the Newsies story is that that's, you know, what happened when it was released theatrically. And then it was released on video and like a lot of movies in the nineties, including The Princess Bride, like slowly became a classic on the rental market.
Mike: Hmmm, yeah.
Sarah: And tween and teen girls such as myself and, you know, non-girls but boy, a heck of a lot of girls were drawn to this movie because it was about boys. And they danced and they sang and they had feelings. And then also because of that, we were drawn into the story of workers' rights and how you must violently defend them if necessary. I for a long time thought that that's the most wonderful thing that's ever happened. And so I recently started researching the actual Newsboys’ Strike because for a long time, I've had these ideas of like, it would be fun to do an episode on the Newsboys’ Strike, it would be fun to do an episode on the Titanic, like the historical Titanic. Because put them off because like, cause they sound fun and I'm not allowed to do fun things.
Sarah: So, yeah, we're doing the Newsboys’ Strike now.
Mike: Wait, why are you allowed to do fun things?
Sarah: I have a Puritan ancestor named Lancelot Granger, there's not a lot of fun coursing through these veins.
Mike: So where do we start on this Newsboys’ Strike?
Mike: Or maybe news people, I don't know what the situation was.
Sarah: Your question reminds me of a great interview that I found on C-SPAN, when Vincent DiGirolamo, who wrote a book that I am relying on for quite a lot of my research on this topic called ‘Crying the News’, which is about newsboys. And so, the interviewer asks him, “Who are the newsboys?” And he's like, “Well, they're boys and girls and old women?”
Sarah: And all kinds of people. Basically being a newsboy means that you sell the news, and the majority of those workers were children and youths, basically. The majority of them were male, but there were a lot of girls, there were adults doing it. But in answer to the question of “Who are the Newsies?”, I want to bring up an article that I actually read in my first ever grad school lit class with Maude Hines at PSU, which is by an author named Karen Sanchez Eppler, who's an American studies professor at Amherst. It's very interesting to look at the way that child workers and children who have, you know, who are existing in this interesting complex gray area. Because on one hand, they’re child laborers. And we understand that the forces of capital are exploiting them and that this is one of the problems with the society that we have.
Sarah: And yet also we see people feeling not just concerned for the newsies, but anxious about the newsies because newsies have power, newsies have an unusual amount of agency for child laborers, because they actually do make enough money that they can have something aside from the bare bones to spend on themselves. And they can purchase amusements, and they can purchase, you know, this is the exact same scripts recur over time. So, there's a lot of concern over the newsies spending too much money on fine food and cigars to advance themselves. And it's like, they are teenage boys, they have put in their hours, let them. I mean, I'm not a fan of children smoking, but like it was 1899, everyone just babies smoked, you know? So it's not about health, is it?
Mike: So, candy was the 1890s equivalent of Fortnite.
Sarah: I feel like it's that same policing that we see as a way to distract people from sort of the inexorability of class status in the United States. This idea that if poor people would only save their money and be responsible, then they would be able to climb the ladder. And it's like, no, you basically end up where you were born in this country, if not a few rungs below that. And you might as well just get comfortable on the rung you're on. Like, it's not illogical for people to behave that way, and it's gaslighting to imply that it's possible to escape a sinkhole, but everyone knows is inescapable.
Mike: I think the idea that guilty pleasures or any pleasures really are something you have to earn if you're not sort of an upstanding member of society, whatever that means. That you don't get to have things like treats or you don't get to watch entertainment that is diverting.
Mike: It's like, no, no, you should be doing something intellectually diligent, even though that's not a standard that we apply to rich people.
Sarah: It’s weird, right? It's like you get to a certain point and then you can do whatever you want.
Sarah: And then before that, like if you buy like some nice yogurt for yourself, then there's going to be some op-ed column that’s being like, “You'll never pay off your student loans if you buy the nice yogurt.”
Sarah: And it's like, I mean, it's funny to me because I think, you know, my problem with the sort of Disney ethos is that it, you know, the moral of Disney is believing in yourself and your dreams will come true. Which is kind of the American aphorism or whatever. And it's perfect for us because it's vague enough that like, if you're a fascist and your dream is to be a fascist, than like, sure, whatever. That's great because it's a very value, neutral sentiment. It's like, you know, no matter what your dreams are, like, they're equally valid because of their dreams.
Sarah: And so somehow a dream of socialism really slipped right through the net. So that could have been the best thing that happened in the nineties. You know, I'm on the fence about it, but this is from the second annual report of the Children's Aid Society by Charles Loring Brace is quoted and Karen Sanchez Eppler’s article, which is called Playing at Class. And Grace writes, “The class of Newsboys were then apparently the most wild and vicious set of lads in the city. Many of them had no home and slept under steps, in boxes, or in corners of the printing house stairways,” I'm laughing because I guess it feels like it cause describing stray cats. “Their money, which was easily earned was more quickly spent in gambling, theaters and low pleasures for which though children, they had a man's aptitude.” I feel like this is like getting into some of your sweet spots, actually, because we're taking like workers' rights, working conditions and, and child labor and homelessness and homeless youths, as concepts that society fails to understand. And this nets together all of them and then his takes us back in time a hundred years.
Mike: But do you think there's something interesting about the sort of societal conception of child labor? That something that we had to invent in some ways, because for a really long-time child labor just meant kids working on farms and kids helping out their parents. So the discourse for a very long time was like, I don't think we need this label ‘child labor’, because children do labor all the time. Like that's the nature of childhood in America is a lot of labor.
So, it took a really long time for us to sort of drive in that distinction between sort of exploitative, capitalistic labor, like the kind that we're talking about with the newsies or factory work or in mines and the kind of family labor. Like we still have trouble with that line today. I don't know where we were on that spectrum in 1890s, but the idea of children working was not like inherently offensive to humans for a very long time.
Sarah: Oh, yeah. Part of paradigm shift that had to happen for people was conceiving of children as human beings, right? Because we've talked in our Stranger Danger episode about how the concept of child abuse didn't exist until such a time as it became necessary to come up with a charge that you could use to remove a child from an unsafe situation. And you know, the closest thing was animal abuse, animal abuse existed before child abuse did as something that was legally defined.
Mike: But, so how did these kids end up homeless? Like whose kids were these, the newsies?
Sarah: One of the interesting “you’re wrong” about newsies is that most of them weren't homeless.
Mike: Oh yeah.
Sarah: I'm talking about huge swaths of time. This is like over a century worth of the history here, but at the time of the Newsboys’ Strike, I mean, I think one of the things that the movie Newsies actually fails to represent accurately is that a large number of these boys had families that they went home to, had schools that they went to, and then would sell an early edition before school and sell the afternoon edition after they got out of school. And then a lot of them also were living in the newsboys lodging houses. But these were kids who also had families that they were going to and bringing their wages to, and that they were expected to help. And they were doing this partly as their way of contributing to the family.
Sarah: So, the idea here that we're getting with this idea of like this newsboy has stray cats sleeping in boxes under the stairs is that the newsboys lodging house are these important institutions through which we can reach and shape these young, impressionable boys on the rhetoric that we see a lot of at the time is that. You know, it is up to the adults and to their economic patrons, basically to ensure that they don't go down the path to criminality, to stop them from wasting their money gambling. And basically, I don't know, it seems like managing a boy band basically.
Sarah: So, Sanchez Eppler writes, “Frederick Starr explains that at the Philadelphia newsboys lodging house panes is taken gradually to refine their tastes by entertaining lectures, readings, dramatic, or otherwise, and innocent games. Get the lodging house game he describes with greatest detail does not appear very likely to refine its players.” And Starr says, “A certain game admitting of no other euphemism and its suggested title has possession of the floor. This is no other than the pile of maggots. The rule is for all to quote pile in, the best fellow keeping on top without injuring his competitors. Of course, the party he supposes himself upper most has, but brief time for exaltation. Soon finding himself at the bottom of the heap. The struggle is generally a short duration for, as the fund grows fast and furious. The smaller boys shouting ouch get off of me, fellers, the superintendent taps, a bell and all his quiescent, instanter.” I just feel that it's important to contextualize the newsies as these young adults, many of them, children who adult reformers are interested in and trying to shape and to mold. And at the end of the day, they are teenagers who want to jump in a big pile. And I think that this all part of why the strike was successful, because this was a strike that feels like it had the energy and the character of the young in it.
Mike: So how did this job work? You stand on the corner and you say, I've got the Herald 5 cents or whatever, and people buy it. And then you do get paid on commission or do you get paid hourly?
Sarah: It's just so funny to me that you haven't seen Newsies and just like Mike, every schoolgirl knows that the way being a newsboy and the 19th century works is that you buy your papers from the distributor. So, in Newsies, the prices that they're dealing with are half a cent per paper, and then they sell them for a penny. And so, if you buy a hundred papers, you spend $0.50 cents. You sell them all for a dollar total, you get a $0.50 cent profit.
Sarah: So, you're in control of the profit margin. You are actually an independent worker.
Mike: But it also means that if you have a slow day and you don't sell all 100 papers that you bought from the distributor, it's you that suffers, not the distributor or the newspaper. Because they've already sold it to the middleman.
Sarah: Hence the lyrics and the opening song of Newsies, “I got to find an angle, I got to sell more papes.” So, the Newsboy’s Strike comes along about in 1899, when basically Hearst and Pulitzer decide to raise the price of the papers for the newsies.
Sarah: So, if I'm a newsie and I'm buying a hundred papers a day, then I have a $0.050 cent turnaround. The proposed raise and the price that I'm going to pay to get my papers is from $0.05 cents for 10 papers or half a cent per paper to $0.06 cents per 10 papers, which means I'm now spending $0.60 cents for my papers and making a $0.40 cent profit.
Mike: Which is a huge, huge cut in your profits.
Sarah: Yes, and interestingly, all of this happens partly because of the Spanish American War.
Sarah: So, this is from David Nasaw, Children of the City, which inspired Newsies, “The event that was to lead to the newsies strike of 1899 was the wholesale price increase that Hearst's Journal and Pulitzer's World had instituted in 1898 at the height of the Spanish American War circulation boom. The publishers, especially Hearst & Pulitzer have been spending far more money competing with one another and extra additions, flashy front pages and eyewitness reports, than they could hope to recoup an advertising and sales. By raising prices to newsies from $0.05 cents to $0.06 cents for 10 papers, they expected to reduce their losses to manageable levels. The boys, as long as they were making money hawking extra additions with horror story front pages did not protest the price increase.” And so the newsboys can cope with this price increase for as long as the war is still happening and as long as they have the splashy headlines.
Sarah: But the war ends and then they're still making $0.40 cents for every hundred papers they sell, but maybe you can't sell a hundred papers when there isn't a war happening.
Mike: Right, that makes sense. So once public interest deflates the industry, sort of as a whole, they realize what has just happened.
Sarah: And I actually have prepared for you, so the Newsboys’ Strike begins in July of 1899. I'm going to send you a couple of front pages from right before the strike, and I want us to play a game where you can imagine that you're a newsboy and that you have to sell this paper.
Mike: Oh God!
Sarah: This is a front page in the New York Times from June 30th, 1899 and we'll have a link to this in show notes.
Mike: For fuck’s sake, the graphic design. Jesus. There's just like a million columns and the headlines are like barely larger than the actual text.
Sarah: We’ve all been wondering when there was a time when nothing was happening, and it turns out its June 1899.
Mike: Yeah, I don't even know what I'm looking at here, there's like 50 stories on the front page.
Sarah: And none of them seem to be more important than the others.
Mike: I know, my little millennial brain needs some sort of prioritization of information.
Sarah: I know you talk about clickbait, but it turns out that like a passionate list of everything that happened today is not actually better. Like the front page of a newspaper shouldn't give you a bunch of headlines that make you go, “Oh yeah, okay.” The biggest headline just says, “Harvard's Day of Triumph - Victorious in All Three Boat Races with Yale”. Like that's actually the biggest headlines.
Mike: Yeah, that is really appealing to these Simpsons writer's demographic.
Sarah: I get the sense that the New York Times has always struggled with the concept of relevancy. Page five, “The Norwegian Steamer Crim which arrived here from Cuba yesterday had a case of yellow fever on board.”
Mike: Also, a lot of the stories seem kind of low key, not news. Like one of them just says, “Death Leads to Marriage in Chicago”.
Sarah: That could just be a tourism slogan for Chicago. Welcome to Chicago, where death leads to marriage.
Mike: So, it says Chicago, June 29th, Peter W. Hanson and someone, someone whose name is ripped off, both of Racine, Wisconsin were married here today. The bride was the widow of the Reverend Jay Tope, a Baptist minister of Racine who died suddenly some time ago from overexertion in riding a bicycle.
Mike: Mr. Hanson, who was an ex-policeman, was called to sit on the coroner's jury, which investigated the death. He soon became interested in the young woman and she in turn found him attractive. The outcome of this romantic attachment was the procuring of the marriage license in Chicago.
Sarah: “Extree, extree lady gets married.”
Mike: So, this is what the Newsboys had to sort of sex up to get people to buy on the street corners, basically.
Sarah: So, one of the practices for which Newsboys are notorious, is spinning a story into something bigger and more interesting to try and get people to purchase their paper. So, if I were a newsboy, I would say “Extree, extree, yellow fever outbreak.”
Mike: Yeah, the one about the lady marrying the guy, you could pretend that the dude killed the guy on the bike.
Sarah: Or you could say “Extree, extree, man murdered by invention”. I'm showing you all this to impress upon you, to me, the sense of dismay that would perhaps come over you as you sit down to look at the headlines and to try and sell this fucking thing and to do it 100 times today.
Mike: So, the Newsboys just all got together and decided we're not going to go pick up the papers from the warehouse today?
Sarah: Well, let me answer you with another quote. So, Nasaw writes, “It is difficult to say where or precisely how the strike began. The first reported actions took place in Long Island City, where the Newsies discovered that the journal delivery man had been cheating them. On July 18th, they took the revenge by tipping over his wagon, running off with his papers, and chasing him out of town.
Sarah: And then word of this travels to the Manhattan newsies, who on July 19th the following day holds an assembly at City Hall Park, and announced their intentions to strike the following day.
Sarah: They say, give us back our original prices, our pre-war prices, $0.50 cents for a hundred papers. And if you don't and we're striking, they're essentially holding their labor hostage. Which I guess is what a strike is, but I just felt the need to say that I guess. So, what appears to have happened is that there was a relatively small action on Long Island City, word travels to newsies closer to the distribution points that they need to take out and closer to the bosses that they need to communicate with. I feel like this is how we see protests happen today. Like there's smaller events that precipitate the larger and more decisive ones and also that they're often parallel evolution happening in different neighborhoods or different parts of the country.
Mike: Yeah, it's interesting that when conservative politicians talk about a thousand points of light or the big society, they don't mean trade union strikes. They don't mean direct action.
Sarah: Anyway, let’s watch a number from Newsies?
Sarah: This is a historic moment, Mike. I feel in a way that all my life has been leading up to this. But I say that whenever I show Newsies to someone for the first time. So this is the scene where they are, we are learning through the language of musicals, they've decided to go on strike. And so, the way that the creators of Newsies have compressed the sort of disparate opening story, where it starts in Long Island City and Manhattan takes notice and et cetera, is to just have two characters who are the sort of Moses and Aaron combo through the dialogue between these two characters we kind of get a series of skits on what a union is and how to make it, and then, and then express all that through song.
Mike: Hell yeah.
Sarah: Three, two, one, go.
(Song from Newsies, The World We Know)
“Pulitzer and Hearst, they think we're nothin'. Are we nothin'?”
“We stick together like the tribal elders and they can't break us up”
“Pulitzer and Hearst they think they got us. Do they got us?”
“We’re a union now, the Newsboys’ union, we gotta start acting like a union.”
“Even though we ain't got hats or badges, We're a union just by sayin' so...
And the world will know!”
“What's gonna stop someone else for selling our papes?” “What’s wrong with them?”
“Some of them don’t hear so good.”
“Well, then we’ll soak um.”
“No, we can't be those kids in the street, that will give us a bad name.” “Can’t get any worse!”
“What's it gonna take to stop the wagons? Are we ready?”
“What's it gonna take to stop the scabbers? Can we, do it?”
“We'll do what we gotta do until we break the will of mighty Bill and Joe...”
“And the world will know! And the Journal, too! Mister Hearst and Pulitzer, have we got news for you!” The world will hear what we got to say. 'Stead of hawkin' headlines we'll be makin' 'em today. And our ranks will grow”
“And we'll kick their rear!”
“And the world will know that we been here!”
Mike: It was poifect. No, I'm realizing, okay, I'm realizing why I have not seen this as an adult. No offense to anyone involved in this film or anyone who likes this film.
Sarah: Oh boy.
Mike: Two of the things that induce involuntary shuttering cringe responses for me are, A) singing, and B) child actors.
Mike: It’s like physically difficult for me to watch this.
Sarah: Any singing?
Mike: Especially people looking at the camera and singing.
Sarah: You can't watch any ABBA videos.
Mike: I know.
Sarah: But yeah, 90% of this movie is kids singing. It is worth talking about why this movie is what it is. Right? Because I feel like it's like, it's a weird thing for Disney to have decided to do.
Sarah: It wasn't going to be a musical and then they're like, “Let's make it a musical. And then maybe that will make it less weird”. And then they're like, “Cool, we're going to get some kids who can sing and some kids who can do gymnastics. And some kids who can act and almost none of them will be the same kids.”
Mike: It's funny, Christian Bale's never sung since this.
Sarah: He did not know it was going to be a musical when he agreed to do it. And I still feel sad for that betrayal happening.
Mike: I know. What was that conversation like? Christian. quick thing...
Sarah: But like the lyrics are, I mean, they are very labor rightsy. Like Pulitzer may own the world, but he don’t own us. And then in another song, you know, one of the lyrics is, “Nothing can break us, no one can make us give our rights away” which is like this very radical core concept that you as a child worker intrinsically have rights that you have workers' rights and that you have the sovereign power as an individual.
Mike: There's also, I mean, I think it was something along the lines of, “We're in a union when we say we're in a union”. It's something that exists because a large group of people say it exists and take it seriously.
Mike: Which is also, I mean, that's basically what governments are. That's what currency is. That's what police forces are. I mean, a lot of the sort of core concepts of modern life are actually the same structure that if a bunch of people say that this thing exists, then it does meaningfully exist.
Mike: It's also kind of radical for people in positions like these, to just be able to say it like look, all, all it takes is for all of us to believe in this thing and then it will happen.
Sarah: I really love the irony of the fact that the newsies are this fixation of benevolence societies. And there's this idea that they exist in this precarious space and they must be shaped and to wholesome young adults. And really, it's like, I think the lack of shaping partly that makes them capable of grasping these ideas.
Sarah: Because if they were more shaped by the world and they have been, then they would have been adjusted maybe more fully to a world where it's obvious that they don't have rights. Because workers don't really have rights and children definitely don't.
Mike: Yeah, and they would have been playing checkers instead of blackjack.
Sarah: Instead of pile of maggots.
Mike: Instead of pile maggots. Yes, so what happens, what ends up happening with the strike?
Sarah: So, July 19, they rally and City Hall Park, they announced that they're going to go on strike unless the prices are rolled back to $0.50 cents per a hundred papers. And then they go about doing the business of starting a union so this is another Nasaw quote, “Officers were elected a committee on discipline chosen a strategy debated and delegates sent out to spread the word to the newsies at 59th street and in Harlem, Brooklyn, Long Island City, and Jersey.”
Mike: Wow, and all before the subway.
Sarah: I know, and they're traveling on foot. Yes, like I'm sure there's ferries and I don't know, you can like Marty McFly onto like a slow-moving car or something like that.
Mike: City bike system.
Sarah: The newsies acted swiftly, not because they were children, but because the moment was fortuitous. The Brooklyn streetcar operators were already on strike, and though they would ultimately be defeated, they were for the latter part of July tying up the police so tight there were few left on the downtown Manhattan streets.
Sarah: They're being strategic about it too, and they understand that there just isn't going to be enough adult authority to intervene in the kind of wall that they're going to put up between the newspapers and their customers.
Mike: So, it's basically the dancing montage from the Breakfast Club, except it's like an entire sector of the economy.
Sarah: So they demand that their prices be rolled back. They strategized that the police will be otherwise occupied, and all that is left is for Hearst and Pulitzer to meet their demands. Which obviously they don't, because it's a bunch of kids who cares what they say.
Sarah: So, this is the way The Sun reported on the first day of the strike, “Fully a hundred boys were gathered in park row at the hour when the first additions of the yellows usually come out and as soon as the wagon started there was a great howl and a shower of missiles, which made the drivers' jobs uncomfortable. The police came on the run and the boys scattered hastily. For an order had gone out, it has said that the police are not to be injured. All the boys were armed with clubs and most of them were in their head gear placards, denouncing the scab extras and calling on the public to boycott them.”
Sarah: So, they try to stop the wagons from coming out. They do end up scattering because the strike leaders themselves have decided that they're not going to assault the police. And then the delivery drivers go out and then are met at their individual distribution points around the city, by the newsies.
So again, here's another The Sun quote about a group estimated at four or five hundred newsboys who were at the 59th street distribution point. “They had decorated the newsstands and lampposts with banners inscribed, ‘Please don't buy the World or Journal help the newsboys our cause is just. We will fight for our rights and other pregnant sentiments.”
Sarah: “As soon as the wagons came up, the boys press forward and began to hoot and howl though pushed back by the policemen they did not scatter. They formed a circle and as fast as any man got his bundle of papers and tried to get away with them, they sweep down upon him with yells of kill the scab. Mauled him until he dropped his papers and ran then tore the sheets into small bits and trampled them in the mud.”
Mike: This is also a time in American history, when people really did resolve arguments with brawling, quite a bit more than we have now.
Sarah: That’s such a good point because I know we love to act as if the world is getting more violent and yet statistics say that it isn't.
Sarah: I guess that the fact that, you know, everyone was dehydrated the whole time until 1960 so The Sun reports on an incident where a young newsboy, they don't say the age, but like a kid, a child is getting his papers from a distribution point and is being guarded by a police officer. And so the newsboys strategize how to deal with this and one of them is named Mush Myers, which is the name he used for character in Newsies. Young Mush suggests that he will snatch some of the kid’s papers and run and get the cop to chase after him and then the other newsies can go after the kid.
Sarah: Which is what happens. They go after the kid, they attack him, and then he joins up with them and is spotted working for the newsies like an hour later.
Sarah: And The Sun, who's reporting on this - this is my favorite thing - calls the policemen who are trying to interfere with the Newsboys’ Strike, Blue Coated Servants of Capitol.
Sarah: You do not get that in the mainstream newspapers these days.
Mike: Soldiers of enforcing segregation, yes.
Sarah: So here again is a quote from Children of the City and this is a description of how quickly the strike escalates. “Joseph Pulitzer, nearly blind, so sensitive to sound he exploded when the silverware was rattled, managed his newspapers and of absentia for the last 20 years of his life. Nearly every day, he received memos from the New York world office, providing him with the information he required. In July of 1899, a new subject appeared in the memos. The Newsboys’ Strike has grown into a menacing affair. It is proving a serious problem, practically all of the boys in New York and adjacent towns had quit selling. By the 24th panic had set in, the advertisers have abandoned the papers and the sale has been cut down fully 2/5. It is really a very extraordinary demonstration.”
Sarah: And so, the turning point comes on July 24 when basically the papers have been so compromised and their ability to distribute that advertisers decide to pull their money.
Mike: Oh, soooo, this is very capitalistic.
Sarah: Yeah, exactly. And that's what happens because apparently this is when Pulitzer and Hearst start to take it seriously and this is when they start seeing the Newsboys as a real threat and they played dirty back against them. And so, this is the cliffhanger I'm going to leave us at for now.
Mike: Oh, to be continued.
Sarah: Oh, thank you, Mike, for joining me on this weird loopy journey, because I feel like this is kind of an odd, this is kind of a weird one.
Mike: This is fun.
Sarah: I guess I feel like something that I love this deeply, and that depresses me so little, can't possibly be good for me.
Mike: I think this is right and good and wonderful. I think it is important to find shiny objects in the past to distract ourselves with like jingling keys in front of a baby.
Sarah: Yeah, this is something that makes me happy. This is a movie that has meant a lot to me for a long time. I look back on it now as, as really the only reason that I grew up hearing anything about worker's rights and about the labor unions and labor organizing that reflects the reality that is now very, obviously all around us.
Sarah: And I don't know, this is a story where people try really hard to do something together and it works out and I wanted to do one of those.
Mike: I wholeheartedly approved, I think at least 5% or 6% of our episodes shouldn't be horrifically depressing.
Sarah: So, this is a quote from Spot Conlon, who is described in this book as district master work boy of the Brooklyn union and is familiar to anyone who's a fan of Newsies for his appearance there. So in Children of the City, we hear, “Spot Conlon hired in pink suspenders walked across the Brooklyn bridge with greetings and promises of support. “We have tied up the scab sheets so tight that you can't buy one for a dollar in the street, hold out my gallant kids and tomorrow I myself at the head of 3000 Nobel hearts from Brooklyn, we'll be over here to help you use when your Nobel scrap for freedom and fair play.”
Mike: Hell yeah kids, see Spot strike.
Sarah: So the question now is, now that the adults are taking the strike seriously, what are they going to do? How is it going to resolve? Can these papers be distributed without newsies? And what happens to the strike, and what happens to the newsies after it?
Mike: And after all this is the trade union still going to woik?