New Yorkers went through yesterday without their newspapers as the publishers of the city's three major dailies looked to the powerful deliverers' union to become the lever to try to break a strike by 1,600 pressmen.
The publishers said they are ready to print newspapers if the deliverers go back to work - whether or not the rest of the unions continue honoring the pressmen's picket lines which were thrown up Wednesday night.
"It's really up to them [the newspapers deliverers]. If they come to work, we'll print. We can print now, but we can't deliver," said H. J. Kracke, executive director of the Publishers Association of New York, representing the three strikebound papers - the New York Times, the New York Daily News and the New York Post.
"Right now we are keeping a low profile," added Jonathan Thompson, a spokesman for the Daily News.
Deliverers' president Douglas La Chance hedged on the degree of solidarity his union - which controls most of the wholesale and retail distribution of the three papers - felt with the pressmen, the last New York newspaper union to resist labor-saving automation which has swept the industry.
He said his union will honor picket lines "right now," but added, "We've got to play it one day at a time."
Representatives of the three papers don't expect any movement until next week in the strike that started Wednesday night when the pressmen for the Times and the News walked off the job over the posting of new work rules that would greatly reduce the number of workers needed to man the presses.
"We're taking a wait-and-see attitude" on whether La Chance's union continues to honor the picket lines, said Thompson. Early next week, he said, the paper will most likely reassess its decision as to whether to publish.
The deliverers union crossed picket lines at the News in June when the Newspaper Guild staged a brief strike.
Talks led by federal mediators broke off when the strike started and Leonard Moffett, the government's No. 2 mediator decided against reopening bargaining sessions until tempers cooled.
The picket lines were honored by eight of the other nine craft unions - the printers were the only union not to back the pressmen because their union's long-term contract bars any strikes - and the Newspaper Guild, which represents reporters, editors, advertising sales and clerical employes.
Speculation here that the publishers were counting on the deliverer's union to try to break the strike was underscored by the premeditated nature of Wednesday's action.
The pressmen had made it clear to everyone - other unions, the publishers and the federal mediator - that they would strike all three major dailies as soon as the new work rules were posted, and the other unions with the exception of the printers had vowed they would honor the pressmen's picket lines.
"The papers are absolutely crazy to have precipitated that strike if they don't have a plan to start publishing," said an attorney who had represented a southern paper in a similar strike in which the pressmen's union had been broken more than a decade ago.
The publishers made it clear they do not need the other unions to produce the papers. "I don't care" if the guild comes back to work, said Martin Fishbein, a spokesman for the New York Post, which is owned by Australian publishing tycoon Rupert Murdoch, who has been in almost continual disagreement with his editorial employes since buying the paper in late 1976.
Mid-August is the best time of the year for newspaper publishers to have a strike, said John Morton, an analyst of the newspaper industry for the investment house of John Muir and Co. Advertising is light until near Labor Day, when the back-to-school promotions start, and newspapers traditionally make less money during the summer than in other months, he said.
Nonetheless, New York's deputy mayor for economic development, Peter Solomon, said the walkout "will have a negative impact" on the city's economy.
For New Yorkers, the first day of the strike meant looking at each other in buses and subways instead of their papers. New Yorkers were buying anything they could to read and the Wall Street Journals were the first to go, followed by local weekly papers and special interest publications.
"If it looks like a newspaper, feels like a newspaper and folds like a newspaper, they're buying it," said a midtown newsstand operator.
Radio and television stations increased their news programs.
While suburban newspapers declined to try to distribute in the city, citing delivery difficulties that they said would make it a money-losing proposition, they said they were increasing their press runs to try to attract new readers in their own areas.
The New York dailies have added local news sections to keep these readers from switching to the suburban papers. But the Post's Fischbein, for example, said he fears that some of his paper's readers in Queens would switch during the strike to Newsday, a newspaper published on Long Island.
Few out-of-town metropolitan dailies moved in to fill the void. The Philadelphia Inquirer said it will distribute 30,000 extra papers here while The Washington Post sent 1,000 added papers to New York.