Workers Publish Underground Newspaper

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Workers at Cambridge Firm Publish Underground Newspaper

by Herb Fox

Science for the People’ Vol. 2, No. 2, August 1970, p. 8 – 9

” . . . No real changes can occur until people begin to talk to each other about what is wrong and about what can be done to right it.” So goes the editorial comment of

SIGNAL/NOISE is one of a growing number of publications coming out in shops and laboratories to meet the need for working people to cut through the bullshit that management is forever spreading around. At BBN, secretaries, scientists, engineers, maintenancemen, technicians, computer programmers, etc. had been meeting off and on for over a year before they came out with their newspaper.

One article, “Evolution of the BBN Underground”, tells the study group’s history of “… study, reading, talk, action …”, beginning in the winter of 1968-69. Recent study group actions, listed in the article, include action on firing of an employee, getting mechanisms installed to relieve secretaries from being glued to their phones as virtual answering devices, and participation in peace rallies.

“The Secret Salary: Seperated and Unequal” refers to “An effort to eliminate unfair differences in pay… through a program of collection adn dissemination of information on the problem.” Following a discussion of inequities in wages based on sex, the article goes on to discuss the policy of “concealment of wages.” “Secrecy is the key to the entire system of hiring labor as cheaply as it can be gotten, and in perpetuating wage inequalities indefinitely.” The discussion leads to the conclusion, “It would seem, then, that the employer is the only party with something really to lose by disclosing salaries.” The article goes on to describe a program of the underground to get people to disclose their salaries to one another.

Other articles in the paper are one that proposes “Day Care Centers at BBN” and one that discusses “Minority Hiring at BBN.” “News Flash” describes some internal finagling by the management that resulted in the rapid departure of a V. P.

SIGNAL/NOISE is not without humor. “News Release” parodies recent shenanigans whereby the company almost completed a merger with another company. “Personal Notes” are hilarious parodies in the usual personal announcements column of company newspapers.

At laboratories and plants without underground newspapers radical workers’ groups should consider the idea of a counter-newspaper to the company bullshit. If the paper is topical and relates larger issues to the specific problems at the workplace, it should be well-received. Guidelines are to be found in contradicting the usual practise of company newspapers: tell the truth, be humorous, tell about the real problems bugging people.

In the case of SIGNAL/NOISE there has been a strange sequel: managements publication department enviously acknowledged the superior quality of the underground newspaper and the irrelevance of its own. “Maybe we can work together . . . ” SIGNAL/NOISE’s editorial board, flattered but not fooled, is not likely to mistake management’s spokesman for Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother.

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