Striking workers from among the five unions at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and their friends and supporters from other unions and groups as well as individual supporters gathered for a picket party Saturday evening outside the Butler Eagle in Butler. They wanted to make some good trouble by creating some camaraderie while delaying the delivery trucks that pick up the Sunday newspapers the PG is having printed there during the strike, now in its 10th month.
There was more good than there was trouble.
Starting around 8 p.m., some of about 35 participants munched squares of pizza from boxes stacked on a folding table set up at the entrance to the Butler newspaper’s production loading docks. While listening to recorded music on a big speaker, or singing along with the Pittsburgh Labor Choir, some wrote messages with sidewalk chalk while others painted a big sign that read simply: “Solidarity.”
They were taking a group photo with that sign and singing a refrain for a social media video when organizers called everyone to make a circle and tensely told them that the trucks were coming down West Wayne Street. It was about 9:45 p.m.: Go time.
As the picketers walked in a counterclockwise circle at the entrance, blocking the trucks from entering the plant’s parking lots, a half dozen police officers told some of them that it was time to go or they would be arrested. Some of the officers picked up the pizza table and moved it across the street.
But the picketers knew it was their right to keep picketing, and so they did, chanting, “Get up, get down, Butler is a union town!” and a variation of “Wheels on the Bus” aimed at the convoy of SUVs, vans and box trucks that sat idling on the street, waiting to cross the picket line and do what should be strikers’ work: “The scabs on the bus can back it up, back it up, back it up. The scabs on the bus can back it up and get out of here!”
As most of the police officers stood watch, one moved along the line of waiting vehicles and directed them to pull over to the plant side of the street. In front of and on the stoops and porches of the houses on the other side, more than two dozen neighbors watched, some recording everything on their cellphones and many of them voicing support for the striking workers. Said one: “You know, this is illegal for them to do this to you.”
That was just as several more police (including state police) vehicles rolled up from the other end of the street and parked, lights flashing. About a half dozen more officers walked up to the picketing group. One used the public address system on one vehicle to announce, “ATTENTION: This is the Butler City Police. REMOVE yourself from the entrance. … You are blocking a BUSINESS. … Remove yourself from the entrance IMMEDIATELY.”
The picketers kept picketing until, after about a half-hour total, the bigger contingent of police officers managed to herd them over far enough for the convoy to roll into the fenced parking lot, where several private security workers stood watch. The picketers shouted and jeered: “Scabs, go home!” “You should be ashamed!” “The scabs on the bus can …”
With such a big and pushy police presence, picketers agreed, there wasn’t much more they could do, and so they welcomed the neighbors to help themselves to boxes of pizza and cold bottled water, and they picked up all their signs, art supplies and trash. One resident offered extra garbage bags and took the one big bag of flattened pizza boxes to dispose of for the group. Another resident asked the picketers when they would return, and a picketer assured him that they will, unless the strike ends.
In the night sky lit by a beautiful crescent moon, there were both fireflies and mosquitoes. That’s just the way July is.
Bob, a feature writer and editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, is currently on strike and serving as interim editor of the Pittsburgh Union Progress. Contact him at email@example.com.