The Multinational Monitor

March 15, 1986 - VOLUME 7 - NUMBER 5

C O R P O R A T E   C A P A I G N S   -   W O R K E R S   H O L D   T H E   L I N E

Syndicalist or Saint?

An interview with Ray Rogers

In early February of this year, labor strategist Ray Rogers was arrested when he and members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local P-9 blocked the entrance to the Geo. A. Hormel Company gates in Austin, Minnesota.

Rogers, who had coordinated the act of civil disobedience, was charged with criminal syndicalism, an archaic and questionable criminal law used to punish those who promote "the doctrine which advocates crime, malicious damage or injury to the property of an employer... as a means of accomplishing industrial or political ends."

Being charged with such an offense is only a minor setback for Rogers. The more significant obstacles confronting this labor activist have roots deep in the union movement. Since October 1984, Rogers has coordinated Local P-9's campaign against the Hormel company. The local's fight against the retrenchments and wage reductions sought by Hormel has triggered a bitter feud between Austin's rank and file and their parent union in the last several months.

Although the key element in the dispute has been the local's attempt to stop concessions despite the International's stated policy of conciliation with the industry, tensions have been exacerbated by the local's decision to use Rogers and his New York-based Corporate Campaign, Inc. (CCI), to run their campaign. Prior to founding CCI, a labor consulting group, Rogers coordinated the Amalgamated Clothing & Textile Workers Union's successful campaign to open the J.P. Stevens Company up to organizing.

Rogers recently spoke to the Multinational Monitor about the role of the corporate campaign in labor battles as well as the current campaign against Hormel and the effect of the UFCW's opposition to Local P-9's strategy.

Multinational Monitor: The successful J.P. Stevens unionization drive crystallized the corporate campaign concept, how has it evolved as a strategy for organized labor since then?

Ray Rogers: I think today there is a real misunderstanding of what a true corporate campaign is all about. In a corporate campaign you have to be able to target both individuals and institutions that set policy for a company or that can influence a company's policies to the point of control. It's only through in-depth research and analysis that you can begin to understand the nature of the power that you're dealing with and then develop a multifaceted strategy-a corporate campaign. This strategy has to be one you feel confident that if carried out, you will win. It has a beginning point "A" and an end point "Z". Point "Z" being the total defeat or annihilation of the adversary. You're not out to annihilate anybody, but if you can progress from "A" toward "Z", somewhere between "A" and "Z" there is a breaking point or a point of compromise.

Monitor: Are there times when a corporate campaign simply won't be effective because of the type of company, the strength of the union, or economic conditions in the industry?

Rogers: I think that there's always an answer to a problem, but certainly you've got to have issues, you've got to have some resources and you've got to have some real commitment to mount the campaign. There have to be issues that you can present to broader segments of the public so that you can rally them around supporting your campaign. The corporate campaign concept is based upon being able to mobilize large sectors of the general public-anyone outside the immediate group affected by the problem. You've got to be able to go out there and build coalitions among individuals and organizations and channel their efforts in some meaningful way to bring pressure to bear on the company so that you can reach your objectives.

Monitor: Do you think that every union battle-whether it is a contract negotiation, an organizing drive, or a strike-has something to be gained from the corporate campaign strategy?

Rogers: There's no question about it. We analyze an adversary from every conceivable angle and then we adapt the program to it. When you take on a company like Hormel you use just about everything a corporate campaign entails. I think most people view a corporate campaign as trying to attack or challenge interlocking directorates, stockholders or creditors. But those are just a few elements. You have to analyze and identify which individuals or institutions to challenge. Just because somebody is tied into a particular company does not mean that they are the ones you should challenge.

It can't be a puff program. You cannot confront a powerful adversary and expect to get anything unless you are backed by a significant force of power yourself. It's confronting power with power. You have to develop a campaign that can mount very tense economic and political pressure on your adversary. It's got to be relentless pressure. You can't act, then sit back and see how the other side reacts. What you've got to have is one relentless action after another.

Monitor: What do you think was the most effective aspect of the strategy used in the J. P. Stevens case?

Rogers: The most effective strategy was the whole concept of dismantling the financial power structure behind the company. That was the critical point that forced the Stevens company to settle with the unions. The primary objective was to bring pressure to bear on those individuals and institutions that could exert tremendous influence over the company's labor policy. It was evident in the overall analysis of the company that the key to breaking it was bringing enough pressure to bear on big mutual insurance companies headquartered in New York, mainly Metropolitan Life, New York Life, and Equitable. They controlled by far the largest portion of the long term debt in Stevens, and they were tied in through very high level corporate interlocks. The mutual insurance industry was key.

Monitor: Where does labor's traditional weapon, the strike or potential for a strike, fit into a corporate campaign?

Rogers: The strike weapon, in too many instances, is totally ineffective. If you get into a strike it can't be a traditional strike, you've got to lay a strong foundation so that you can mobilize your strike force into a very powerful economic and political force. Workers have a tremendous amount of knowledge, imagination and energy, and you have to mobilize collectively those skills and get those people to move very aggressively. Then, you won't have a bunch of strikers who sit out in front of a plant everyday getting frustrated waiting for something to happen.

Monitor: How effective has the strike coupled with the corporate campaign been in Local P-9's fight against Hormel?

Rogers: We took a small group of meatpackers in a town in southern Minnesota that nobody had ever heard of and we made these people a powerful economic and political force first across Minnesota, Iowa and the Midwest, and now all around the country.

It's just the tip of the iceberg of what can go on here. This is in light of the fact that you have this small union with Corporate Campaign, Inc. taking on a major company in the meatpacking industry and also taking on a big financial power behind it, namely First Bank Systems, the Hormel Foundation, the local Chamber of Commerce, the local media, the City Council, the National Guard and most unfortunately their own union.

If there was only one dimension that we did not think we would have to deal with it was what happens when you have the parent union take a very vicious stand to undermine or undercut and destroy everything that the people are fighting for. Otherwise I believe this thing would have been won several times over.

Monitor: In the last several weeks the United Food & Commercial Workers International Union has called the P-9 strike mass suicide, threatened to cut-off the local's finances and now it is talking of putting the union under receivership. What do you think the International stands to gain by attacking P-9 so viciously?

Rogers: The International has nothing to gain. What the president of the UFCW, William Wynn, has done is made a very, very serious mistake. It has been a total embarrassment to the entire labor movement. By claiming from the outset that P-9 was on a suicide mission, he has put the full force of his union and the AFL-CIO behind an attempt to undermine this campaign. I don't know of anything like this ever happening in the history of the labor movement. There have been international unions that have put locals in receivership. There have been unions that don't support the locals. But, there has never to my knowledge been such a concerted effort by high levels in the labor movement to totally destroy one of its own local unions.

Monitor: Why do you think Bill Wynn and the UFCW International chose to confront local P-9?

Rogers: It started out as petty politics. This International union has failed time and time again in this particular meatpacking industry and they are afraid that local P-9, along with Corporate Campaign, Inc., will succeed where they failed. They see two problems with this. One, that people will begin to raise the question, `What do we need with this International if with all these resources we can't succeed?"And two, if there is a local that does succeed, other locals will then expect the International to learn something from that and give the same type of support. But this union does not have any interest in trying to provide the kind of expertise that we have provided to one local union after another. They would have to work too hard. William Wynn leads a lavish lifestyle, the last I knew his salary was $150,000 a year with a very heavy expense account. He had his own jet, he rubs shoulders with the top politicians in Washington. He feels, in my opinion, much more comfortable riding on Exxon's jet than sitting down and talking with rank and file members. He certainly does not want the headaches and the pain that it takes to put one of these campaigns together and really represent the interests of the workers and poor people. So what they had to do was attack us and say that it wouldn't work and now they are going to fulfill their prophecy: That this was doomed from the very outset. They've even gone so far as to try and cut off all the finances of Local P-9.

What they did just prior to the strike and afterward several times was put out an in-depth report claiming that Local P-9 was near bankruptcy because of the high fees it was paying Corporate Campaign, Inc. The fact of the matter is that in this six-month campaign we have raised this local union many hundreds of thousands of dollars. And I should also add that since the strike we have not taken one penny. The International is trying to make us look like real opportunists, when in fact we have put tens of thousands of dollars of our own money into this. We have raised all of our operating expenses. We have put everything behind this campaign and are taking nothing.

Monitor: What will this antagonism between the local and the International mean for the UFCW?

Rogers: I have had insiders say that they think it's hurting the labor movement and it's hurting the UFCW. They think William Wynn has made a very, very serious error. If anybody is bent on a suicide mission, I think William Wynn is. I think he is committing political suicide. No matter what happens in this campaign, whether we settle tomorrow and regardless of the settlement, one of the things that we've done is we've really broken that facade that you've got these labor leaders in Washington who offer real support and real direction to workers to fight back effectively. You've got workers all across the country now realizing that the International doesn't want locals or the rank and file to succeed.

One of the very key ingredients of this campaign was not only to challenge the financial power structure of the company, one of the real critical things we've done is that we've broken down the communications barriers that were set up by the company and the International union. We've broken down barriers between the rank-and-file members at the Austin plant and all the other plants around the Midwest. We've got workers that have refused to cross our picket line even though the International said walk across the picket line.

It's quite a revolt. Out here in the Midwest you can't find anybody at any of the plants that has one good thing to say about this International union. This antagonism was here before I got down here. I just stepped into it.

Monitor: What was the situation when you first came to Austin?

Rogers: The workers wanted to do two things at that time. They wanted to go on strike and they wanted to pull out of the International union. But I thought we could iron things out if the local leaders met with the International's leaders in Washington. Boy was I wrong. This International wants to set an example with this local and with Corporate Campaign, Inc. There is some kind of viciousness here that is pretty shameful.

Monitor: It's been said that union officials are uncomfortable with the more aggressive and controversial tactics of Corporate Campaign, Inc. Do you think they fear reprisals or are they more concerned with their standing with the companies involved?

Rogers: There afraid because we're not under their wing, they can't control us because we're not part of their country club. You usually talk about corporate officials that have their country club atmosphere where they just maintain a small group of interests and to hell with everybody else. Fm afraid that a lot of the labor leaders in this country are very much the same as corporate executives. They're going to protect the interests that allow them to have this lifestyle. They're really not committed to real social and political change. They're not committed to putting up the kind of fight they need to put up for the best interests of workers and poor people and real progressive social and economic and political change in this country. That's not to say they're all like that, there are some really good labor leaders out there in the national and local levels. There are also a lot of very bad ones.

Monitor: What can Local P-9, and the labor movement in general, do to bridge the gap between locals and internationals?

Rogers: These people are voted into office, and like Richard Nixon, they can be removed from office. The democratic process with some unions makes it difficult, but there is not a labor official out there that can't be removed from their position if they refuse to serve the interests of the constituency that they are supposed to be representing. They can be held accountable and they can be removed. People have got to understand in their hearts that if there is any hope for their future, their family's future, and the stability of their communities, they need better leadership-leadership that will begin to fight back in a much different way.

Monitor: Do you think the corporate campaign strategy is one of the ways organized labor can recapture some of the membership and clout it has lost in recent years?

Rogers: I think that what is needed within the labor movement itself is more coordination and cooperation and leadership that is going to work toward that coordination and cooperation. We can turn the whole ball game around if unions work with each other. But, you have to have a program to fight back with and the training and understanding of how to fight back. That's what a corporate campaign provides. And this may sound conceited on my part but I'll stand by it. I believe that a little corporate campaign program with limited financial resources, not powerful economically but certainly powerful with our ideas and our organizational ability, can do more in terms of fighting the kind of fight needed to turn the American labor movement around than any international union or AFL-CIO group. The reason I say this is rye watched what we've been doing. It's not that others can't do what we're doing, but they don't. These unions are taking one beating after another.

We had to raise all our money, we had to deal not only with a corporate financial power structure and all the resources they've got, but we had to deal with the International itself, and still we have a campaign that's getting stronger and stronger. Our support is growing all around the country. If something were to happen to end this campaign tomorrow, no one could help but look and say "they started with nothing and look what they built." The international unions, on the other hand, have got resources-they can run any kind of campaign they want to. But, they're just not committed to it.

Monitor: Why aren't they willing to expend those resources and offer that kind of commitment now?

Rogers: Because people at the top of these unions are out of touch with the predicament of the members of the rank and file. They are more interested in promoting the interests of a small group of people at the top of the union, even though it is the people at the bottom who provide the finances and the comfortable living standards for the people at the top.

Monitor: Do you think corporate campaigns can be used internationally to stop corporate flight and to give organized labor a stronger bargaining position?

Rogers: There's no question about it. The one important thing about the corporate campaign concept is the ability to use it internationally because it recognizes that you have to deal with challenging financial power. And it is money that can be moved by the corporate financial power structure very quickly-even overnight-to undermine workers, to undermine governments, to undermine whole populations. The overall concept of challenging the abuse of power is that you have to challenge the control over the flow of that money. One major goal is to try to balance the tremendous imbalance of power between those segments of society that have far too much power and abuse it, and those segments that are suffering from that abuse because they have too little power. When you are dealing with money power, you just have to press a computer button and it can destroy a whole community or a nation overnight. By simply deciding to export all the investment capital out of an area, you can destroy overnight something that organizers and communities of people have spent many, many years-generations-building up.

Monitor: What kind of concessions is Local P-9 willing to grant Hormel in order to save jobs?

Rogers: The local union has made several recommendations to the company and the company not one time has moved to try to reach an agreement. They took a hard-line position from the very beginning and they never changed it. They demanded massive wage and benefit cuts in light of the company's major record profits. They've continued to raise the stock dividends and raise the salaries of the chief officers. Yet, they are a company that has the worst injury rate in the industry with 33 percent suffering major work-related injuries. Last year there were 202 injuries per 100 workers which means that some workers were injured more than once during the year. If you're down here its like the walking wounded you have people missing their fingertips, you see all kinds of scars on their backs, on their shoulders, on their wrists. Some workers at that plant are totally debilitated for life. Its a dirty rotten job.

Monitor: Without the force of the International behind P-9, how vulnerable is Hormel to the local's campaign?

Rogers: If you want to look at it from our perspective for a minute, we have a company here that has spent tens of millions of dollars and many decades to build a trademark family image. That image is being destroyed overnight. The year before last they had an advertising budget of between $50 and $60 million, they spent well over $70 million this year.

They've got workers standing up and rebelling. They've got some very serious problems out there that they have to deal with and it's getting worse. Every contract in the whole Hormel operation except two are up this summer and fall. That's the reason this International should be getting behind Local P-9 making sure they can hold out until all these other contracts are up. The whole operation could then be shut down until one master contract is negotiated. But they're not interested in that, they're interested in keeping the workers divided.

If Bill Wynn ever got behind this he'd be the leading labor leader in the country instead of what he turned out to be. If the International had simply remained neutral this campaign would have been over with a great victory down here. But, the International union's leadership is working in collusion with the Hormel company. I firmly believe that the international union has made a commitment to Hormel that as long as Hormel will not sign an agreement with Local P-9 that would be as good or better than what other local unions have with the Hormel operation, the International union will not support any effective fight back strategy for the workers. In fact, the International has mounted a very aggressive campaign to undermine the local union. They claim that there is no way that the local union and Corporate Campaign, Inc. can succeed, but what they're doing is getting themselves deeper and deeper into this mess. There is a breaking point. We've got to watch to see who is going to break first, the UFCW and its partner Hormel or the workers out here who are fighting a corporate campaign.

Table of Contents