Typographers Union

by Jim DuPlessis


The following is a combined and edited transcript of two tapes I received in 1985 from my grandfather, Bernard Louis DuPlessis (1904-1992) who lived in Newark from 1906 to 1933. If anyone has any further information, especially about the history of the Newark Star and the Typographers Union there, please email me at:

-- Jim DuPlessis, Camden, S.C., Nov. 29, 2000

[James Carme DuPlessis (1868-1936), moved from Syracuse, N.Y., to Newark, N.J., in 1907. He worked first and briefly at a New York City printing firm and then went to work for The Newark Star. During some period, he was president of the Typographers Union local at the paper.], My father, he loved to talk to people. He'd go out and hunt them.

I remember as a kid going to union meetings. Apparently there must have been an annual meeting or something. This one meeting was at a theatre in Newark. My father got up and made a speech.

As far as his labor stuff was concerned, he said very little. But I know he was active. And I know he was dedicated to organized labor. When I was your age I used to read The Saturday Evening Post -- everybody did and took it home -- and it was a scab paper. And he would ask me not to read it and tell me 'couldn't I find something else.' He hated to have it in the house. I never made a big issue of it, but I never stopped reading it either, and he didn't make that much of it either.

Everything that was bought -- as far as possible -- had a union label on it. He was brought up in the days, as a young man, when this one famous industrialist said 'A dollar a day is enough for any workingman' and my father quoted that quite often. He learned his trade in the Oswego, New York, Palladium. It is now Pallidium-hypen-something else, but the paper is still in existence. [Oswego Palladium-Times].

The Merganthaler Linotype machine was just getting started and most of the printers printed by their hand then. I forget the thing they had for picking up a big font of type and doing this with it and that with it. My father learned that, but he was one of the first persons to learn the job with the Linotype and he did that, other than a short stint of proofreading -- for the rest of his life.

In those days you spent five years -- at least you did later, maybe in his day there was less time -- and you worked to learn your trade -- you were an apprentice. And then when you learned your trade and were a full-fledged journeyman, you were out of a job. I mean you would sign on as a sub -- a substitute worker -- at the paper where you had been working or you would go out on the road and look for a job somewhere else. That was a way of life. Once you were on -- had seniority -- you could take a month off -- you wouldn't get paid for it -- but you could get a substitute to work for you. Your job was always secure-- they couldn't take it away from you. They fuss a little bit about the rigidity and the extent of union rules, but they had a purpose.

My father, during the whole time he was married, never went on strike. Never had to. But his wages were docked every week for strike benefits for other areas where there were strikes. So the union took care of their own. It didn't make them rich, but they did take care of their own. One of the effects of having steady employment was I never knew what it was to be hungry. We always had food on the table, a decent place to live and so on. And if you weren't unionized -- believe me -- you didn't. ... That was a big factor, looking back. I didn't appreciate-- I knew the reasons for his being strong about unions. I could appreciate them, but I never developed a strong interest either one way or another being a union man or not.

[Robert Thomas DuPlessis (1892-1947), a newspaper composing room worker and foreman]

My brother, Robert, incidentally, was a make-up man. I don't know if there's such a thing in a newspaper anymore. [Yes, in 1985, but they would soon begin disappearing as copy editors in newsrooms used computers to layout pages and send them electronically straight to platemaking --jmd] In other words, he made up the pages from the type. He set everything up -- the ads and all that -- he stood at a desk with a tilted top and did all those things. My father, of course, operated a Linotype machine. His trade is now gone -- I mean the Linotype -- that's a thing of the past. So he saw almost the whole of that phase of the newspaper business.

They could talk shop by the hour. The newspaper men then, particularly the mechanical men, they floated around. They would have a job safe, but he would want to take some time off. There were all these printers, capable men, who signed up as extras and that would give them a day's work. Of course, the other guy would lose a day's work, but he had other plans or something. And that's what they would do. Sometimes they would go off for months and still hold their jobs. One friend of my father was a famous baseball scout for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Larry something. He'd go out for months at a time. I think finally he quit near the end of his career. He'd go out for months at a time, somebody would hold his job and then when he came back the other guy would have to give it up. But by that time he was probably far enough along on the list so that he either due to get a regular job or had already gotten it. They were quite a guild.

One other point about grandpa DuPlessis, rather my father, your GREAT-grandfather DuPlessis. He was a Republican. Now a very hard-nosed Republican. You may wonder about that. Even in his day most workingmen were Democrat. But he was also one other thing He was a teetotaler. There was never any liquor in our house from one year's end to another. I don't know why he was so hard-nosed on it. He wasn't critical of other people who drank. In fact, he'd make a point of saying 'He's a very decent man; he does take a drop or two.' Sometimes he'd say about someone they take a little too much. Whatever happened in his past life, he was an absolute teetotaler. The Democratic Party was a song party. That's why your great-grandfather DuPlessis was a Republican. "

Linotype & Linotipisti
(off site - part in English and part in Italian)

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