Striking Post-Gazette workers celebrate Chanukah together
“Chanukah is about a small group of people standing up to a bully,” Goldstein said.
The parallels were obvious: A small group of determined men and women defending their ideals, fighting against a larger, better-funded organization, accused of being more concerned with maintaining the status quo than justice.
The fact that the smaller group chose to meet at a temple and lit candles shortly after sundown only added to the similarity.
When Andrew Goldstein stood and addressed the dozen celebrants who gathered at Temple Sinai on Dec. 19, he met the Chanukah comparison head-on.
“Chanukah is about a small group of people standing up to a bully,” Goldstein said. “People who really believe in who they are and what they do and standing up to what was, in their time, one of the great armies of the world.”
Goldstein is a member of the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh and a writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The Guild — along with members of the Teamsters, Pittsburgh Typographical Union, Pittsburgh Newspaper Printing Pressmen/Paper Handlers; Pittsburgh Mailers and Newspaper; Newsprint, Magazine and Film Delivery Drivers Helpers and Handlers’ unions — all went on strike on Oct. 6, protesting proposed changes in health insurers and benefits, and cuts to wages and senior employees’ vacation time.
And while the striking workers aren’t the Maccabees and P-G Publisher John Block isn’t Assyrian King Antiochus IV attempting to Hellenize his Jewish subjects, Goldstein said the last few months have been hard as he and his coworkers have gone “without pay and health care.”
Goldstein thought a holiday party that included latkes, doughnuts and a menorah lighting might be the pick-me-up the group needed.
“I figured that Chanukah would be a good time to have people come together and do something fun and celebrate, have some food, have some drink together and kick back with a relaxed evening because we’re all stressed, we’re all tired and we’re all anxious about the future,” he said.
The fact that most of those in attendance were not Jewish mattered little to Goldstein who said the intention of the evening was to find hope and bring light to the darkness.
Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh President Zack Tanner said he attended the Chanukah celebration, despite not being Jewish, for the sense of unity.
“Being on strike is a real solidarity-building event,” he said. “There’s a lot of togetherness there, and I think events like this bring people together.”
Sounding a bit like Mattityahu, one of the Jewish priests struggling against the Assyrian army, Tanner said there is joy in the comradery.
“When all of us are standing together, fighting together, that feels really good,” he said. “It feels really good to stand up and say, ‘Here are our demands, this is what we’re fighting for and why we’re fighting.’ You just keep doing it every day and it feels good to do it with a group of people behind you like this.”
John Santa, who works on the P-G’s news desk, called the gathering “bittersweet.”
“It’s inspiring to be with all these people and see all the good things we’re doing that are coming out of the strike,” he said, “but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t difficult.”
Marian Needham, an executive vice president with the national NewsGuild who was in town for negotiations with the P-G, said it might take a miracle akin to a single night’s worth of oil lasting eight days to end the strike anytime soon.
“This is the fourth session and, in each of those instances, the employer’s representative, who is an attorney — the employer doesn’t even bother coming to the table — says, ‘We’re happy with our proposal,’” she said.
Taking another message from the holiday, Goldstein said that Chanukah means “rededication.”
“I stand here amazed with this incredible group of people,” he said. “It makes me want to rededicate myself to all of you, to this union, to journalism here in Pittsburgh. There’s a lot of symbolism here, and I’m proud to be here with all of you.”
On Dec. 6, the P-G reported that, according to management, 2007 was the last profitable year for the paper, which has lost almost $264 million over the past 17 years. PJC
David Rullo can be reached at [email protected]