DAVID BRINKLEY: And on Labor Day, a look at one of the country's longest running, and roughest, union dispute. The Textile Workers and the J.P. Stevens Co. Here's Mike Jenson. (FILM CLIP)
MIKE JENSON: For fifteen years, the Textile Workers Union, now merged with the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, has been trying to organize employees at J.P. Stevens, for the most part, unsuccessfully.
The campaign has been charged with emotion. The AFL-CIO's George Meany once characterized J.P. Stevens this way:
GEORGE MEANY: Let me say a few words about this campaign to achieve elementary justice for the employees of J.P. Stevens Company, the nation's Number One lawbreaker.
JENSON: For the last two years, the Union has been promoting a boycott of Steven's products, and demonstrations have been held by supporters of both the Union and the company.
Now the textile workers are trying a new strategy: to drive a wedge between Stevens and the rest of the business community. The union is using a massive letter-writing and telephone campaign to persuade other financial institutions to break their boardroom ties with Stevens. The union believes that if Stevens finds itself standing alone in its hard-line approach to organized labor, it might ease its stand.
Economist John Kenneth Galbraith agrees.
JOHN KENNETH GALBRAITH: There's an enormous, and rather ridiculous, desire on the part of businessmen to hang together on these matters, and I think it would be extremely healthy for Stevens to feel that other business firms accept unions as, indeed, does the public at large.
JENSON: The new campaign is the brainchild of 34-year-old union organizer Ray Rogers.
Rogers' plan is light-years removed from traditional labor tactics. Operating out of a cluttered basement office, he has put together a coalition of unions, church groups and political organizations. Their message is aimed at businesses having board members who also sit on the board of J.P. Stevens — and it says, "Get off one, or the other."
RAY ROGERS: When you look at the Stevens' company, you can't look at it as 85 plants, 44,000 employees and a multinational corporation with immense Wall Street connections. You have to look at it as the 13 men who direct it, and the primary self-motivating interests of those men.
JENSON: Rogers has won two unexpected victories, forcing two Stevens directors off the Board of Manufacturers-Hanover Trust, and the Chairman of Avon Products, off the Stevens Board.
J.P. Stevens, which is in the hot seat, refuses to comment on the textile workers' pressure tactics. But the company is faced with something that is brand new: unions have never had a say on who sits on corporate boards of directors. That sort of clout has always been reserved for Wall Street and the big banks — and that, of course, is what makes the union campaign so remarkable, and so controversial.
JAMES DAVANT (CHAIRMAN, PAINE, WEBBER, JACKSON & CURTIS):
I rather deplore the tactic because it's very difficult to get very good directors and I think that power tactics to remove good directors are self-defeating.
JENSON: Rogers' next targets are the Seamen's Bank for Savings and the New York Life Insurance Company. The heads of both sit on the Stevens' Board.
As for Ray Rogers: hardly anyone took him seriously in the beginning. Now they are wondering, a bit nervously, what his next move will be.
Mike Jenson, NBC News, New York.