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Pulitzer and Hearst they think we’re nothin’. Are we nothin’?
Pulitzer and Hearst they think they got us. Do they got us?
Even though we ain’t got hats or badges, we’re a union just by sayin’ so!
The newsboys’ strike of 1899 was more than anyone at the time was prepared to handle, but no one was more surprised by the actions of the newsies than William Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer. During the Spanish-American War, newspaper sales skyrocketed. Newspaper owners raised the costs of their papers to try and rake in some extra war-time dough. After the war was over, many papers lowered their prices again to ensure their kids would still be able to survive (many newsies only made a half-cent per paper sold). But big guns like Joseph Pulitzer of World and William Hearst of the Journal decided the increased cost was fine, because they liked their money, and what could a bunch of kids do?
Much to Hearst and Pulitzer’s chagrin, a bunch of kids could do a lot. The strike would inspire later action by newsboys (and girls) across the country, and would eventually help spark child-welfare practices that would help lead to the laws we see today.
Said strike would also inspire several instances of media representation throughout the decades to come. This would start with DC Comics’ Newsboy Legion back in the forties, Disney’s Newsies in ’92, and eventually end with the Broadway adaptation of the film in 2012 that would conclude its tour in 2016. That’s over a century of influence and counting, just because “a bunch of kids” had decided that enough was enough.
While both the film and the Broadway production hold all the charm you’d expect in a story of children rising up against their oppressors (complete with two incredible soundtracks) that’s not what continues to engage audiences. The story of the underdog will always play well because the majority of consumers are just that. We might have varying levels of privilege or social status, but there’s always one authority or another messing up the common person’s day.
Though certain administrations would seek to eliminate anything that might protect the very people they claim to serve, unions have a long and bloody history that won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. That history is long because of actions of everyday people who decided enough was enough and that they deserved basic human decency. It’s bloody because paying people fair wages, or providing basic things like health care mean losing some of that precious bottom line.
When things kick off in the 1992 film, Jack Kelly (Christian Bale) is just trying to make a living. But after enlisting the help of the book smart David Jacobs (David Moscow) and his cute kid brother Les (Luke Edwards), the newsies eventually realize how badly they’re being mistreated. They don’t like their work, sure, and they know they’re not being treated fairly, but who isn’t? There’s still hesitance even after the initial realization for the same reason there’s often lack of action today: the fear of losing their livelihood. Though it’s been over a century since the riot that inspired Newsies took place, the exploitation of workers is still more common than you’d think, but that mistreatment is often in instances where unions don’t exist.
The fact of the matter is corporations will always look out for themselves over their workers. Yes, even your favorite. There’s still plenty of exploitation in the instances where unions exist, but workers have more power in unionized situations. You remember back in late 2008/early 2009 when all of your shows suddenly sucked? That went down because the Writers Guild of America was sick of studios making egregious amounts of money on their scripts and paying them next to nothing in comparison.
If given the option between being a newsie or being a dirty rotten scabber (or worse, someone who just looks the other way), which option are you gonna take?