Ray Rogers, Director of Corporate Campaign, Inc., and his office-mate, Melivin, in his office in Brooklyn.
(Hagen for News)
Ray Rogers never liked bullies.
He realized this while in fourth grade in Beverly, Mass., after he got punched out by a bigger, stronger, older kid.
"He knocked the daylights out of me," Rogers said. "I was terrified of him for three years."
Rogers spent those three years building what would become one of his life's addictions — lifting weights. Eventually, he made the bully back down — and stopped him from beating up other kids.
He's 64 years old now, but in some ways, Rogers is still that kid — he still works out, and has the trim waist and muscular arms you get from running and lifting weights several times a week. He doesn't smoke or drink, and he watches his sugar intake.
Rogers also still takes on big opponents — only now he's on the side of workers, and corporations are feeling his fist in their financial guts.
The tactics for protest Rogers created more than two decades ago have revolutionized labor actions worldwide.
They've also made him a legend.
The premise is simple.
"A lot of people don't understand where power comes from," Rogers said. "It comes from organized concentrations of money and people.
"I realized that inherent with large organizations, like unions and all the members they represent, there is a lot of financial power there that had never been tapped," Rogers said. "That financial power was and is being used against them."
Unions, administrators of huge pension funds, "turned the money over to the banks and insurance companies and investment companies," he said. "Since money is power and these are collection agencies of money, then they're collection agencies of power.
"It's symbiotic," he said of the corporation/bank relationship. "As long as they're all making money, what a great world this is."
Rogers reasoned that to attack a corporation effectively, a group had to find a way to cost it money. To do that, organizers had to deconstruct a corporation to the parts that made it powerful, then attack each part in succession.
He knew that a bank can exert incredible influence and control over a company. So any battle against a corporation revolved on how much the bank valued its relationship with that customer.
Target the bank for wrongs done by the company, and it could exert its influence on the corporation to settle with it sunions.
Rogers put the strategy to work the first time from 1976 to 1980 while helping the Amalgamated Textile and Clothing Workers organize at J.P. Stevens & Co.
He held demonstrations outside the company's bank, Manufacturer's Hanover, and infiltrated both companies' annual stockholders' and board meetings with union sympathizers so they could be heard - and some would say to disrupt.
By the time the protest was over — it inspired the Academy Award-winning film "Norma Rae" — a string of executives from J.P. Stevens, Avon Products and New York Life Insurance Co. who sat on the boards of Manufacturers Hanover Trust and New York Life Insurance had resigned.
The campaign was so powerful and unorthodox for its time that Rogers was hailed as one of the smartest and most successful union organizers in the world.
He would go on to replicate that success with the Farm Labor Organizing Committee against Campbell Soup Company (1984-1985) and with United Food and Commercial Workers Local P-9 against the Geo. A. Hormel & Co. of Austin, Minn., from 1985-1986.
Rogers worked with The Transport Workers Union Local 100 in New York City in 1999. One part of that strategy was to have union president Willie James publicly declare that rather than strike, workers would let the public ride free to keep the city moving.
The strike was settled shortly afterward.
Rogers created Corporate Campaign Inc. as a consulting agency 25 years ago. The group's DUMBO (Down Under The Manhattan Bridge Overpass) offices in Brooklyn could be a museum dedicated to the labor movement.
There are countless books — Rogers is reading two new ones, "We Will Be Heard: Voices in the Struggle for Constitutional Rights Past and Present" by Bud and Ruth Schultz (2008, Merrell) and "My 70 Years In The Labor Movement" by Harry Kelber (2008, Labor Educator Press).
(The latter is particularly dear to Rogers because Kelber, 95, lives in nearby Brooklyn Heights and works in Corporate Campaign's offices.)
There are pictures and placards of demonstrations past and present — much space is dedicated to the consultant company's present "Killer Coke" fight to have Coca-Cola banished from college campuses nationally because of the soda giant's alleged relationship with paramilitary groups that conducted sometimes bloody anti-labor actions in Colombia.
The three-year-old "Killer Coke" campaign — Rogers came up with the name — has caused student government groups at 50 colleges nationally, including New York and Rutgers universities, Union Theological Seminary, SUNY Stony Brook, CUNY Law School and Queensborough Community College, to vote to have Coke's products removed from their campuses.
In addition, Rogers said, investment firm TIAA-CREF has divested itself of more than a quarter-million shares of Coca-Cola stock.
Rogers has been jailed time and again, and his life has been threatened almost as many times.
Fame has not translated to wealth for him. Rogers, who never married and has no children, lives in a rental apartment in East Harlem, and admits to occasionally having to hustle to find money to keep Corporate Campaign's offices open.
"I could make a call and be a millionaire tomorrow if I would stop doing what I'm doing," Rogers said. "But I can't. That's just not me."