MARCH 1989 - VOLUME 10 - NUMBER 3
I N T E R V I E W
|Workers William "Wimpy" Winpisinger, 64, has been president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers since 1977. Winpisinger has been and continues to be one of the most outspoken voices in organized labor. Winpisinger dropped out of high school to join the Navy during World War II; he now holds several honorary degrees including a Doctor of Laws from Wilmington College in Ohio. He is a member of the AFL-CIO Executive Council; a member of the board of the Democratic Socialists of America; and president of the Citizen Labor Energy Coalition. Winpisinger is a strong advocate against the maldistribution of wealth in the United States and for the interests of the country's underprivileged.|
|Why should [corporations] have the unfettered right to run all over the globe and do anything they want to do no matter who it discommodes, no matter who it injures, no matter which communities die from it, no matter how high the social scrap heap gets?||
MULTINATIONAL MONITOR: Jesse Jackson's program involves really fundamental
change including redistributing income, moving money out of defense spending
and into domestic spending and a new kind of foreign policy. Conservative
pundits claim that those policies are going to turn off the American worker.
They want to go in a more conservative direction, they want a more establishment
candidate. What do you say to that?
WILLIAM W. WINPISINGER: Well first of all I say balderdash. Any conservative who thinks that this country is going to continue on the armament binge we've been on now for several years, better have another thought. The country can't afford it, we're bankrupting ourselves in every other area of our activity by these insane deficits that are generated by that kind of obscene military spending. Cap Weinberger was so far down the road of arming the country to the teeth, out of some imaginary menace to our safety, that we stand on the brink of bankruptcy. That is going to change. And I wanted our members to be prepared for that change because 25 percent or more of them work in those kind of jobs.
Well over 10 years ago, I started pounding the length and breadth of our jurisdiction telling people that we had to get in place an economic conversion program in the United States of America. So that when the public finally did get fed up with the obscenity of what was going on we wouldn't suddenly get the pink slip in a paycheck on Friday night that says don't come to work on Monday morning. And fundamentally it provides that there shall be created in every defense base or establishment, a conversion committee, composed of representatives from management, labor and the community, to inventory everything that is in play in that establishment. And from that inventory determine what alternatively could be done or produced in that facility if anything should cause an order to be cancelled or a shutdown to occur. And there would be modest government grants, to finance that kind of activity. And try to get plans on the drawing board before the ultimate emergency arises so that you don't go through a complete lay off or the community tragedy and misery that debt generates. This is to try to make it a smooth transition with plans which could be constantly updated by the work of those kinds of committees to make a transition rapidly and relatively smoothly and without loss of income to workers or losses of revenues to communities to continue to go.
MM: So, each committee would look at a particular defense contractor, like say a Lockheed plant? And they'd say what could we make at this plant instead of missiles, or whatever they make?
WINPISINGER: That's with the caveat that it should be socially useful production, if it's a producing facility.
MM: Doesn't the company have final say in what they're going to make and where they're going to make it?
WINPISINGER: Sure, but the government owns a great many of those facilities and they lease them to the contractors. That being the case, government has the right and responsibility to give those committees an opportunity to put their plans on the record and engage in whatever activities are necessary to give that community and that group of workers an opportunity to try to let it survive. The whole thrust of it is to make workers and communities viable and whole after or when a disaster hits.
MM: Would the conversion committees work in plants where the government hasn't provided the facility, where the plant is wholly owned by the company?
MM: So they would make a recommendation but the company would still have the final say.
MM: If the problem is instability in jobs, with the contracts being put in and taken away, you also have instability in the civilian economy. Wouldn't the only way to deal with that problem be to have some kind of control over the companies ability to make those decisions?
WINPISINGER: Well, I don't know how in a so-called free- enterprise economy, you can do that. It just doesn't seem to me possible to force the companies to do it. You can set up a procedure, and this has not been proposed in legislation, by the way, wherein when a plant closure is announced, that a company can be brought before the local bar to show cause why they cannot continue to stay there and operate there at a profit. And if they can, require that they do. And if they refuse to obey that kind of a decision, then, let them go, let them leave, [but] expropriate the plant and the equipment.
MM: But what would be left behind would be the plant and the machinery in the plant. There wouldn't be any of the capital that you need to keep something running.
WINPISINGER: We would prefer to make arrangements for a capital bank by creating an industrial development bank, under the aegis of our government. Where, say, one percent of after tax profits would be deposited annually as the engine for those contingencies and future development.
MM: What kind of changes would you like to see in trade?
WINPISINGER: Well, we've always thought it was insane the way our government conducts its trade responsibilities because we've got it diffused all over the place. The left hand never knows what the right hand is doing. What we need is a single office of trade that reports to the president of the United States or one of his cabinet officers that takes all of that apparatus under one roof and monitors. And get more Golden Rule about it. Enforce GATT agreements, recognize violations. And most of all, the old Sam Gompers theory: reward your friends and punish your enemies. Somebody wants access to your market, you get access to theirs. And if they don't give you access to theirs, shut them off from ours.
MM: What about the idea of conditioning access to American markets on how a country treats labor?
WINPISINGER: We believe trade legislation already does carry some admonishments, in that regard. Worker rights are indivisible from human rights. It should be implicit in all the GATT agreements, in every unilateral trade agreement we have with anybody. How can an American worker maintain an American standard of living if he has to pit himself against a rice and beans, twenty-some a week native somewhere in the world, who is forced to work for starvation conditions of that kind? And produce for our market? And never develops the indigenous consumer power to have us sell him anything? That's exactly what happens to them.
MM: Corporate people argue that under a capitalist system, if you slow down the mobility of capital, you slow down the growth.
WINPISINGER: Growth anywhere else in the world doesn't mean a thing to an American worker unless it entails the development and expansion of the economy in the recipient country that helps them build a system of indigenous consumption. Otherwise it's worthless. I'm not interested in the corporation saying "You've got to compete against it or I'll take it over there." Up yours, I tell them, buddy. You might go there but you go there, and engage in a capital pool over there. And build it the same way you built it here, get all the same perks from the community and everything else you want but you're not taking profits that are the product of the hard worked for earnings of American citizens buying your products and then take it away from them.
MM: Well, instead of trying to figure out ways to get a handle on the companies, why not go after the ownership of the companies themselves?
WINPISINGER: If we talk about all the workers who currently make up an enterprise, that's one thing. But when people talk about worker ownership, they talk about the blue-collar people by and large being the owners. Managers don't often opt into that because they can make money someplace else by playing the same game they've been in all along. So you don't keep them. And when you don't, blue collar workers aren't trained to run businesses. We're trained to produce things, so why opt into something for which you're ill-equipped, at best, and might not be able to make fly?
MM: You're talking about the worker ownership plans that have been tried at a few companies. But haven't those usually been ones that were on the way down anyway? What about trying some kind of worker ownership with healthy companies? Ones that are already making a profit?
WINPISINGER: Well, let's put it this way. If yesterday a company was owned by IBM and during the night you pull the shade down, you open up in the morning and it's IBX and everybody that was there yesterday is here today and they own it and run it. If they do well, they're going to get bought out by somebody and you're right back on the same merry-go-round because who, offered a tidy profit, is going to say no, we won't sell it? Or if the corporation that had it yesterday feels that they can produce somewhere else, they'll go there and produce and they'll beat your brains out in the marketplace. As a loss leader even, to run you out of business. Another failure by the workers. Own the country maybe, then we'll socialize it and get on with it.
MM: What about that? Some people say if you try to do some kind of worker ownership plans like that they'll always be surrounded by the sharks and there's no way. But if that becomes a national policy, then its a different story.
WINPISINGER: Under that circumstance, you have to control the sharks. And there'd be a political base for that. If you're going to do that, then let's control them now, the way it is. It's no different.
My position is as long as we retain in this country any modicum of allegiance to the unfettered right of capital to be pervasive, you're never going to do it. I just don't see anything in between because any-thing to protect public or worker ownership can in reality be done right now and accomplish the same objective. Be-cause they have adequately demonstrated they have no allegiance to flag, country, patriotism or anything else. They'll go anywhere in the world where they can do it and make more money.
MM: So that would be an advantage to taking over. You could keep it at home.
WINPISINGER: That would be the advantage of making them behave responsibly and in the public interest to the citizens of the United States, not the citizens of the world. You know you hear all the time about this global economy. What the hell is the global economy? It's a contrivance for the most part of the industrial giants of the United States. And they've built it, nurtured it, took their money abroad. They'll take their capital, made again through the purchase of their products by American workers, American families and charge them enough that they amass sufficient profit to take a big chunk of it up to the satellite down in Paris, open a plant branch and they've done it. Thirty-five percent of the total foreign investment when I last looked it up was in Western Europe. And here they sit telling us that Western Europe's knocking our brains out, killing us in trade and all that. It got to the point where they were and are paid more in dollars and cents per hour in job categories than they're paying American workers. And besides that they've all got national health services, don't have to worry about sickness or injury or loss of family income or anything like that. You ask yourself, "how the hell can they do that?" And the minute you suggest that any of those benefits ought to apply in the United States, they lead the charge up to Capitol Hill telling the politicians we can't afford it.
MM: It seems that fewer and fewer of the good paying jobs with a chance for advancement are being created. You're getting more of either the high-tech jobs where you need a lot of education or the lower wage jobs that are going nowhere. How can you deal with that as long as you still have the private ownership of the economy?
WINPISINGER: Well, number one, that's the global economy aspects, now who chiseled in granite it was going to be this way? Who said the United States was going to be a service nation, we were going to let everyone else produce? That's crap. That was their grand design. And they've managed to execute it pretty well. It's just now that I see kind of an awakening in America to the denigrating aspects of that stuff. And it cries out for controls to keep it here. In the event that doesn't come, we will be a service economy. We'll have everyone in the family above 16 years old working in order to provide enough income to live like an American citizen in the average American environment. I don't see worker ownership curing that, by the way. As long as you let the sharks swim in the world pool, they'll knock your brains out.
MM: So the way to attack that is to keep the companies at home. Keep the companies from moving with those jobs.
WINPISINGER: Absolutely. Why should they have the unfettered right to run all over the globe and do any damn thing they want to do no matter who it discommodes, no matter who it injures, no matter which communities die from it, no matter how high the social scrap heap gets?
MM: But isn't part of the problem the changing way that production is done? The whole kind of automation and technologies that are coming in?
WINPISINGER: We've never bucked that. We have never been, in this country, Luddites. Nor are we now. Labor has supported expansion, new methods and techniques. We've argued sometimes over the "how tos" of it.
You've go to take the available employment and di-vide it up more equitably among the number of participants. If that means shortening the work week, then that's what you've got to look to.
As far as technology invasion in the work place, we try through collective bargaining to handle that. And what we say is, we are entitled, as workers, to advance notice of implementation of new technologies and the right to negotiate on the rate and the techniques by which it will be introduced into the workplace. To shield the victims as much as possible from the impact and the harm, to preserve job opportunities and to provide retraining time and facilities for people to grab new skills if they have to have them. I don't think that's unreasonable. But boy, nobody wants to do it. One of the ones out in front with us has been Boeing. And maybe that's one of the reasons they're successful. They will accomodate legitimate concerns. And we save a lot of jobs that way.
MM: You're working on a campaign on Frank Lorenzo?
WINPISINGER: Well, we're trying to created public recognition of what's going on.
MM: What does that involve? What are you asking for?
WINPISINGER: Well, it's fundamentally a collective bargaining battle. Over the past 10 years, Eastern Airline employees, including that quotient of it that belongs to our union, have given back to Eastern $1 billion in concessions of one kind or another. Frank Borman had it for a number of years, had just gotten it to profitability, with our help, when deregulation came. We subsidized that adjustment to the deregulated environment by more concessions. A hundred million a year is a lot of money.
MM: What are the adjustments involved? Why did there have to be a subsidy?
WINPISINGER: Well, because all of the competition looked at Eastern's relatively lucrative route structure and said, hey we want it and now we have no constraints on trying to grab it.
MM: So they cut prices?
WINPISINGER: Yes, they took loss leaders on. Ninety nine dollars New York to Miami and back, all that. And Eastern felt they had to beat it or lose their business. And it didn't have the financial strength, having just gotten to the level of profitability, to withstand any prolonged attack of that kind. So we subsidized it with more concessions by the employees, and as soon as they'd get one off their back by sustaining, another airline would take them on. And they made a lot of management decisions which were not good. It was always a fight, every time a new round of concessions was sought.
And the banking community was primarily responsible for the dilemma because every year, under their loan structure Eastern was required to produce, by the end of February, a business plan that guaranteed at least a 2 percent profit, a minimum 2 percent profit, for the ensuing year. And there came a time when Borman would sit down with us every year and say, I've got to have more concessions in order to make the plan, etc., etc. And we did. Finally we got to the point where our people just got a belly full of that. You have an industry in which there are wage standards that are being paid by all the other carriers. And we were falling steadily behind that because of the concessions. Borman came up to that February a while back when we simply said no, we're not going to make any more concessions. He had used Lorenzo as a boogie man for a long time with us. I'll sell it to Lorenzo and get on complying. And we finally told him, "Go ahead and sell it." And he did. Undervalued too, by the way.
So Lorenzo comes right in and then he had just busted all the unions at Continental, found a loop-hole in the bankruptcy laws that let him get away with the destruction of the union contracts over there. And he came riding on to the scene like a knight on a white horse and he's going to show all of these rinkydink airline executives how they've been chumps for all these years, he's going to show them how to treat this goddamn problem. He's going to set new standards for the industry, he's going to slash wages, he's going to do this and do that and make a profit with an airline that may or may not be able to make one. And show the industry how it's done.
He starts off by refusing to talk to anybody from any union. Tries to implement his plans. And he told us very promptly he was going to cut our wages in half. And he had it all his own way, firing people left and right. Jesus we had a wave of firings that transcended many times over anything we had ever experienced before. They'd come down and take you right out from the jet shop, they'd come down with two security guards, grab you, march you. out of the goddamn place. Like a common criminal. Everything to put the pressure on.
He had his own way for, hell, a couple of years. The end of the contract was approaching and then we went on the initiative. We decided to retaliate in kind, so we went on a public campaign. And that's the first time he tried to sell the shuttle and we had him enjoined in federal court in Washington, and that was the very first thing, the very first institution in this society that he ran up against that he either didn't control or couldn't buy. And he went nuts and it really got kind of tough then. He tried something else and the judge held him in contempt and gave him 10 days to purge himself of the contempt or it was $5,000 a day fine from the time we filed the original complaint and all of that. And by that time we went public with our dispute, started telling the travelling public about it: Are we short-circuiting safety? Let that be known, although less vocally. He starts publishing these full page ads in the Journal, Post, Times, New York and Los Angeles, telling everybody about what a bunch of bastards we were. So we had to defend ourselves in the public relations arena and fortunately it turned. It got to where we had a following among the travelling public and among the public at large. And then the safety crash came. And the FAA put it on him. They went through that 30 day bullshit looking at their airplanes, you got two guys on a ramp with a flashlight. Well, you can learn about as much in terms of the safety of an airplane like that as I can learn taking a cursory look at a roller skate, you know.
MM: That's all they had?
WINPISINGER: Yeah, they didn't get into any substantive investigation of any kind. The whole name of the tune was to white wash Lorenzo, get the public convinced that he wasn't flying unsafe aircraft.
MM: So they didn't have mechanics and engineers going into the shops and really going over the planes?
WINPISINGER: Hell no. You can't do that in a month. Those airplanes only cycle in once every many months. So Burnley made that white wash report and appointed Bill Brock, former Labor Secretary, to see what he could do about it. Because the report did indicate deeply rooted morale problems on Eastern which posed a long term threat to safety and he appointed Brock to do something about it. But Brock had to restrict his activities strictly to the safety aspects.
One of the first things he did, of course, was to come see us. I said, look, we will cooperate with you any way we can in the mission that you've been charged with completing. But I'm going to tell you right up front, you can do anything you want, look anywhere you want. First of all the report is a whitewash, we know that, I think you know that. But the fact is, the moral problem on Eastern Airlines is rooted in the kind of a manager Frank Lorenzo is, the kind of gorillas he has hired to run that airline on his behalf. And they're absolute insistence is going to be their way or no way at all. And a collective bargaining agreement is the only thing that is going to solve the problem. And unless you can do something to create a climate in which people can talk to each other and tell Lorenzo that there comes a time in life when even he has to sit down with these lowly union representatives and talk turkey, you're not going to get there from here. He said he underst000d that.
They finally did produce a report. And in the process Lorenzo got around to having his very first meeting ever with any of our representatives. Now that's a long time, a long war just to get a guy to talk to you. Because he's such an arrogant little S.O.B.. "I own the world," is his approach. And if you get in my way I'll run right over you.
I have enough money to bury your ass, see you later. Well, that's a battle-seasoned bunch of veterans we've got on Eastern Airlines and they've been through a lot of wars since they organized back in 1936 and they're not going to take that kind of shit. And that's what the genesis of the whole thing is.
He wants to make cuts that will put Eastern Airlines so far behind the rest of the industry that its pathetic. The rest of the competitors have a right to get all over our case, what are you giving him a break for? You try and take labor out of the competitive equation insofar as you can. And let them compete on service and aircraft quality and all the other things that go into a service business. Not compete on the backs of human beings taking less. So it's going to be a war, a goddamn war to the death, I'm afraid. Our people are simply not going to give in. They've got a belly full of that.
MM: How did you first come into leadership in the union?
WINPISINGER: Through a lot of years of hard work. Eighteen hour days, 20 hour days for years on end. Not continuous, but in spurts. I joined the IAM right after the war, as an auto mechanic, became a steward and went to work as an organizer.
MM: Do you think there's a chance there's going to be a political revival in the labor movement?
WINPISINGER: I think it's well under way already. Every group that rises out of the ashes of something and sees a necessity to respond in the political mainstream invariably comes to elements of labor for the encouragement and the substance that it takes to get started. It seeks out the affiliation of union members in their struggle. Politicians still come to us every time they're in a bind. I don't know what ever caused people to think that labor had some kind of strangle hold on politics. Politicians were responsive to some of the things labor wanted because they were the right things. They were the things that were good for the country and things a hell of a lot of people outside of labor were screaming for.
And hell, it's only the last 25, 30 years that labor has done anything in any organized way to even raise money to compete with the money they used to get from the corporations. The Republicans always got all the corporate money. They throw it around 50-50. They go for incumbents. We tried to compete with that by raising the money 25 cents at a time from members. They passed a law, union treasury couldn't contribute anything any more so we'd go out and raise it by every technique and crazy wild scheme that we could think of. And we'd do a damn good job of it. So when the Democratic party wants $150,000 for the victory fund, we give them $150,000 for it. Because they are still more orientedthan the other guys toward the things we need as a matter of survival and to live like decent human beings. If the Republicans ever grew half a heart, it'd be different, but they don't. And when this administration declares war on your institution, and gives moral support and sometimes more than that to put your institution right out of business, members under-stand that and they dig deeper, they come up with more.
|And [Lorenzo] came riding on to the scene like a knight on a white horse and he's going to show all of these rinkydink airline executives how they've been chumps for all these years, he's going to show them how to treat this goddamn problem.|