by Jane Slaughter

AN AMBITIOUS CORPORATE campaign is now under way against International Paper Co. (IP), the world's largest paper company. Begun in March 1987 by the United Paperworkers International Union (UPIU), the campaign's goal is to beat back IP's demands for concessions.

The battle against IP began when local unions at the company's Mobile, Alabama paper mill rejected company demands for contract concessions. Several other IP mills, mostly in the South, had already accepted the company's demand that workers give up Christmas as a day off and premium pay for Sunday work, and had agreed to job cuts and subcontracting. The Mobile workers refused, and on March 21,1987, armed Pinkertons escorted them from the mill. They have been locked out ever since. In June 1987, three other locals with expiring contracts--in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Maine--struck IP, rejecting similar concession demands. Nearly 3,500 of IP's 17,300 Paperworkers members have been on the street since then.

"They [IP] were proposing to do away with premium pay on Sundays and holidays," says Bob Frase, assistant to the president of UPIU. "In a paper mill you work rotating shifts, and three out of every four Sundays you end up working in the mill as a result of those shifts. [It has been that way] for the last 40 years. Now IP is coming back and saying 'Sunday's like any other day.'"

The UPIU initially hired the Kamber Group, a Washington, D.C.- based consulting firm with close ties to the AFL-CIO leadership, to run the corporate campaign. According to Frase, "We tried a high profile media blitz aimed at Wall Street and the financial community. I think it was effective, but at some point the returns diminish." So the union hired Ray Rogers to coordinate a more grassroots approach. Jewel Bragg, wife of a Mobile union leader, says, "The only thing the Kamber Group did was get a recommendation in some stock magazine [Wall Street Transcript] not to buy IP stock. We weren't able to plug in. When Ray [Rogers] spoke to that meeting of 800 people last December, that was the first time any of us really knew who owned IP."

Says Frase of the switch to Rogers: "I think it has worked well. We got a lot of interest from Wall Street initially [when Kamber was handling the campaign], and now we've got a very large portion of the American labor movement very interested and aware of what's going on here. As far as that's concerned, it's all fallen into place pretty well."

A corporate campaign deals with rarefied levels of the business and financial communities, levels which union members seldom encounter. But the implementation of a well-conceived campaign depends on the hard work of the affected union members themselves and on the solidarity they are able to generate from other union members and from their communities. This "plugging in" is essential to the success of a corporate campaign. In this respect, corporate campaigns rely on labor's very traditional weapons.

"Some people want to wave a magic wand over a situation," says Jeff Fiedler, Director of Corporate Affairs for the AFL-CIO, of the increasing use in the labor movement of corporate campaign strategies. But, he adds, "you've got to do a lot of traditional things as well." Fiedler prefers the term "comprehensive campaign" over corporate campaign. "It's not a semantic difference," he asserts. "Everything on a campaign has to work, not just the corporate stuff."

Corporate campaigns take advantage of the fact that no corporation stands alone, but is, in Rogers' words, "a coalition of individual and institutional interests that can be challenged, attacked, divided and conquered." The idea is to break the company's power structure down into manageable units. Rogers explains:

"International Paper is an $8 billion company. If I take on International Paper head on, I'm dealing with $8 billion worth of power, and they'll use all that power to destroy me. As far as they're concerned, this is a life and death battle. When I go after Coca-Cola, on the other hand, I'm not going after $8 billion worth of power, I'm only going after what the relationship between Coca Cola and International Paper is worth- -maybe it's $25 million."

Coca-Cola comes up because one of its directors, Donald McHenry, also sits on the board of IP. Rogers looks for linked companies which are vulnerable to public pressure; besides Coke, IP also shares directors with Avon, Hershey and Anheuser-Busch. It is easier to organize action against a company with a well-known consumer product such as Coke or Budweiser than against IP's many anonymous paper products, Rogers notes.

The linked company becomes the target of a barrage of postcards urging it to kick the offending director off its board. All of the original company's sins are dredged up, and laid at the door of the linked company.

  • In IP's case, these include:
  • Chairman John Georges' $1.1 million salary--87 percent higher than the average for the rest of the paper industry;
  • Dumping thousands of gallons of waste water into a Maine river;
  • Exposing unprotected workers to high levels of toxic chemicals (for which the company was fined $242,000);
  • Paying no net corporate income taxes between 1982 and 1985 (and getting $59.8 million in tax refunds), while raking in $667 million in pre-tax profits;
  • Hiring the notorious Alabama union-busting firm of BE&K to provide strikebreakers and building a ten-foot barbed-wire fence around its mill; and
  • The deaths of several scabs in mill accidents.

By sitting on the IP board, the outside director is tacitly or explicitly approving these actions--and so, by extension, is the linked company. "I am troubled about Avon's connection with a company that has shown contempt for thousands of its employees..." say the campaign's preprinted postcards.

A boycott of Avon, Coca-Cola and several Anheuser-Busch products is now under way. In addition, the AFL-CIO has placed IP on its "do not buy" list.

Rogers also goes after the company's support system in the financial community. He found that one of IP's senior vice- presidents, W. Craig McCelland, was also on the board of PNC Financial Corp., the 15th largest bank holding company in the country. PNC has banks all over Pennsylvania, and one of the four embattled UPIU locals is in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania. McHenry is also a director of the Bank of Boston, a major New England bank and thus a good target for the Jay, Maine local. PNC and the Bank of Boston, which both own blocks of IP stock, have become the targets of boycotts, demonstrations and actions at stockholder meetings. Central Labor Council presidents in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, as well as regional directors of several big unions in New England, have sent strong letters to their affiliates urging them to boycott the banks, and to withdraw funds. Frase is particularly pleased with the union's success on this front. "On almost a daily basis various labor organizations and support groups have been pulling their funds" from the targeted banks. "The feedback we've gotten is that [the banks] want to distance themselves [from IP] as fast as they can."

After a corporate campaign begins to have an effect, says Rogers:

"All of a sudden within the IP board, instead of everybody sitting there with a rubber stamp saying, 'John Georges, you're right, you're going to kill that union'--it's 'Goddammit, John, this is what's happening to me at Coke and this is what's happening to me at Bank of Boston. Me, Donald McHenry, former U.N. ambassador, and I am on the short list of six people who might become another ambassador or some big position if the Democrats win! I am Donald McHenry, former U.N. ambassador!'"

Rogers insists, however, that what makes such campaigns work is more than harassment: "You cannot embarrass or harass powerful corporate or financial power brokers into making decisions that are going to cost them millions of dollars. They only respond to really relentless, inescapable economic and political pressure. "Coca-Cola doesn't care what Donald McHenry does in his spare time--until it affects them. But they get letters from organizations saying, 'I was going to use Coke at my function, now I'm not.' They've got distributors calling them saying, 'I've got x number of unions, x number of wedding parties saying cut the Coke, take your damn machine out, we don't want any part of it.'

"So Coke goes to the guy on their board and says 'you either get this thing settled or you make a choice which board to get off of.' What we're doing is dismantling the power structure."

Above all, the IP strikers are reaching out to fellow UPIU members and IP workers. This aspect of the campaign, called Outreach '88, has involved caravans to other mill towns for face-to-face meetings to explain in detail the strike's history.

Union members have organized themselves into "caravans" that travel--in Mobile's case, all over the South--spreading the word to other unionists and to other communities. Factory workers become public speakers, explaining why their fellow unionists should contribute financially to their cause and should get their friends and neighbors to write letters and boycott.

The caravaners find these experiences inspiring and eye-opening. Wayne Fisher, co-chair of the Mobile caravan effort, says, "We're treated as heroes. They think we have something they don't. We take pride that we were the first to tell IP no, and the other locals are saying thank goodness somebody did it. We find that people are the same everywhere, the people in other plants, the people who stay after the rallies to talk to us. Our people come back pumped up." Solidarity collections have generated an average of $70 per member per week for the Mobile workers, in addition to their $100 per week strike benefits from the international union.

The campaign also includes demonstrations that seek to mobilize support from throughout the labor movement. The largest were rallies of 8,000 in Boston and 6,000 in Jay.

Thus far, nine other IP locals have rejected concession demands and are working without contracts. In May, leaders of over 20 IP locals met and resolved to "decline to participate in any company programs not legally or contractually required." They also decided on a "work safely" campaign, which, if scrupulously carried out, could cut IP's productivity measurably.

In March 1988, only 10 weeks after the revitalized corporate campaign began, IP asked the UPIU for national level negotiations. Until that time, the company had insisted that the three strikes and the lockout were purely local affairs. IPs condition for coming to the bargaining table was that the corporate campaign be stopped.

The UPIU agreed, but the talks were brief and fruitless: IP demanded that all the strike-breakers keep their jobs. The strikers overwhelmingly rejected this condition, and the campaign was restarted.

The UPIU has said all along that IP does not need concessions, and has cited the company's profit figures as proof: $305 million in 1986, $407 million in 1987, the year the strike began. Now the union claims that the strike is costing the company hundreds of millions of dollars. At its annual meeting on May 10, Chairman Georges refused to answer strikers' questions about what 1987 profits would have been without the strike. However, figures for the first quarter of 1988 show profits increasing at an annual rate of 77 percent.

"They have made a lot of money in spite of all this," admits Frase. The question, he says, is "how much money could they have made if they had these sites and everybody else on board? That's really hard to nail down. Mr. Georges ... characterized the costs as being 'immaterial,' but there is an estimate that it's cost the company over $250 million."

For Georges, however, "immaterial" may indicate not that losses have been small, but that he is determined to suffer whatever is necessary to impose his will on IP workers.

"IP has characterized this as the premier labor dispute of the decade," says Frase. "It's really come down to that they just think they're plain old bigger and meaner and tougher. It's a classic 1920 labor-management conflict."

For IP workers, the fact remains that unless they can hurt IP financially, through the "economic pressure" Ray Rogers talks about, they cannot win. The strikers' work in attacking IP's allies has been enthusiastic, creative and sophisticated, and the support they have generated throughout American labor is impressive. But the verdict is far from in for the UPIU struggle or on corporate campaigns in general.

Jane Slaughter is a staff writer for Labor Notes in Detroit and co-author with Mike Parker of the recently released Choosing Sides: Unions and the Team Concept (available for $17 postpaid from Labor Notes, 7435 Michigan Avenue, Detroit, Ml 48210).