The Financial Times, regarded by many as Britain's best daily newspaper, is scheduled to reappear Wednesday after a 19-day printers' strike that illustrates the kinds of labor-relations dispute often seen here.
Early today, management and union negotiators ended the quarrel that produced Fleet Street's longest work stoppage in a generation. But the deal actually settles nothing. Instead, it calls for the kind of negotiations that could have prevented the shutdown in the first place.
The issue is whether 57 printers, "makeup men" who assemble pages from lines of type, should draw pay fro "blue days" - a term for days they choose not to work.
Their union, the National Graphical Association, was willing to discuss the issue but insisted that wages be paid until the question was settled. On Aug. 4 the Financial Times management stopped paying for hours not worked, and th strike was on.
Like many papers here, the Financial times wants to get rid of all make-work schemes, contractual or, like "blue days," not written into a contract, unlike most Fleet Street management, the Financial Times forced the issue by reducing paychecks when the 57 took turns not showing up for work.
Since Aug. 5, the bankers, brokers and dealers in the City, London's financial center, have been without their daily bible. Thousands of journalists, officials, businessmen and politicians across Europe had lost an invaluable source of daily intelligence.
The flesh and bones of the paper, printed on pale orange sheets, are its voluminous reports of markets and company earnings. Its brain is composed of some of the best and least-colored political reporting to be found in the English-language press.
Bridget Bloom, the Financial Times' Africa correspondent, is closely read by specialists in the field. David Watt is one of the most respected political columnists in Britain and is invariably picked to play the prime ministers when Independent Television puts on one of its reconstructions of Cabinet decisions. Watt is to become director of Chatham House, a foreign-affairs think-tank, next year. Samuel Brittan is the most influential commentator on economic affairs in the county.
Going beyond The Wall Street Journal, which also boasts able political reporters, the Financial Times has a distinguished daily section of arts criticism C. P. Snow, the novelist, writes the leading review for its weekly book page.
The dispute that silenced the paper began in the economic slump of 1975. Fewer pages were printed as ads fell off, so the paper's head printer informally agreed that the composing room workers could taketurns spending the night at home. The practice was called "blue days."
With the revival of Britain's economy, the number of pages increased, and management suddenly discovered that it was short-handed. In March, the paper learned of the deal made by its chief printer, who had died the previous fall.
Executives sought to end the practice, but the union would not yield. It has dozens of similar unwritten deals at other papers and feared that if one went, all would go. The makeup men, moreover, are bitter because they make $2.40 for a 35-hour week, while Linotype operators, because of unusual piecework arrangements, get $420.
The argument went to an appeals committee selected by both sides. It ruled that the company should pay the disputed sums into a neutral fund until the paper and the union negotiated a settlement. But even before the appeals committee's finding, the Financial Times began subtracting pay for nights not worked, while the union refused to abide by the committee finding.
The union knew it was locked in battle with the Fleet Street paper best able to resist its demands. The Financial Times is part of the empire of Viscount Cowdray, one of the richest and least-known of successful Britons. His family, beginning as builders of large late-Victorian housing developments, has demonstrated an uncanny Midas touch for several generations. The Financial Times made $2.5 million before taxed last year with an elite circulation of about 175,000.
In addition, Cowdray companies own 50 per cent of The Economist, a highly successful weekly; the Westminster Press, a chain of 60 prosperous provincial papers; Penguin, a world leader in paperback publishing; and Viking Press in New York.
Cowdray companies control or hold a major interest in Lazards, a leading investment bank; Royal Doulton China; and the vineyards that produce Chateau Latour, a fine Bordeaux. Cowdray also owns a sizable share, equivalent to 3.3 per cent, in Ashland Oil, an important American Company.
Last year, his group netted $25 million after tax on sales of $500 million.
Knowing the power behind the Financial Times, the union agreed yesterday to meet with the paper's management and other printing unions. After seven hours of talk, both sides agreed on the appeals committee agreed on the appeals committee formula: The Financial Times will make payments for disputed "blue days" into a fund held by neutrals. The two sides will now negotiate over the disposition of these funds and the fate of future self-created holidays.