Workers don't have to keep losing

Workers don't have to keep losing
The Progressive Interview with Ray Rogers
July 1988

Ray Rogers generates controversy — in corporate boardrooms and in union headquarters. The architect of the "corporate campaign, " Rogers has made a career of taking on anti-labor firms by using innovative and confrontational tactics. He first earned national recognition for masterminding the winning campaign of the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union for union recognition at the J.P. Stevens Company in 1980.

Since then, he has parlayed his expertise into a consulting business-Corporate Campaign, Inc.-with, at peak times, a staff of more than a dozen researchers, writers, and organizers. The slogan of Corporate Campaign, Inc., is "Tools to Confront Power with Power."

His enemies have called him a media hound, anti-union, violence-prone. His supporters say he can turn the tables on corporate America.

What Rogers does is apply pressure on companies in an unusual and painful way. After pinpointing the lenders, major stockholders, and directors of a targeted company, he devises a highly visible campaign to make those connected with the company feel the heat. If the temperature gets hot enough, the financial powers behind the company will eventually force it to come to terms.

This relatively novel strategy attempts to compensate for what Rogers sees as the weaknesses of labor's traditional weapon, the strike. "Workers have a lot more power than simply withholding their labor; " Corporate Campaign says in its promotional literature. 'The strike should be the weapon of last resort, held in reserve and used only after the foundation for a broad campaign of organization and outreach is in place."

Rogers became the focus of controversy while he worked with United Food and Commercial Workers Local P-9 in its battle against Hormel & Co. in Austin, Minnesota from 1984 through 1986. That battle, to which Rogers still has a strong commitment, pitted Rogers and the local against not only Hormel but also the national leadership of the Food and Commercial Workers.

Rogers's latest effort is a corporate campaign against International Paper, the world's largest paper company. He was hired by Wayne Glenn, president of the United Paperworkers International Union (UPIU), after a strike/lockout off our locals had been going on for eight months.

In November, Corporate Campaign, Inc., replaced the Kamber Group, a consulting firm in Washington, D.C., with close ties to the AFL-CIO hierarchy. By hiring Rogers, the union risked the ire of the AFL-CIO leadership, who by and large view Rogers as a pariah.

On January 7, the campaign kicked off in Jay, Maine. Ten weeks later, International Paper asked for negotiations-on the condition that the corporate campaign be called off.

I met up with Rogers on March 20 in Mobile, Alabama, where five local unions were holding a rally to mark the first anniversary of being locked out of their mill. Rogers was in Mobile to win local union leaders over to the notion that they must be ready to resume their guerrilla tactics at a moment's notice.

Last year, armed Pinkertons escorted the Mobile workers from the mill when they refused to accept International Paper's terms. The company had demanded that the workers give up their time and-a-half pay for working on Sundays. And it wanted to take away the workers' three holidays a year. (The mill operates around the clock, 362 days a year; the only holidays are at Christmas.) Company chairman John Georges is quoted as saying, "Christmas is just another day".

Since the lockout, the Mobile paperworkers have become masters at building solidarity. "When we got locked out, we didn't know Jay, Maine, existed," says Frank Bragg, head of UPIU Local 265 in Mobile. "We found out. We started asking, 'Who's next, who's next?' " In June, the Jay local and two others-in De Pere, Wisconsin, and Lock Haven, Pennsylvania-went on strike over similar issues.

"I kind of like Corporate Campaign's tactics," says Bragg.

"They go for the jugular, they don't just bite at their heels. "

Rogers has immense faith in his strategies-and in the rank-and-file union members who enthusiastically carry them out. He resents those who call him an outsider to the labor movement, as he proudly displays his Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers membership card.

Although a vegetarian and a teetotaler, Rogers comes across as one well prepared to go for the jugular. He is a runner and, by the looks of him, a weightlifter.

"One thing we can prove," he told me. "Workers don't have to keep losing. They need direction, but if they have the will power, they can take on these concentrations of economic and political power and win. "

Q: What makes Ray Rogers and Corporate Campaign, Inc., controversial?

RAY ROGERS: What I do works. The proof of that is that whenever there's a settlement at a company we've targeted, they always. insert a clause saying the union can't have a corporate campaign again.

Q: Why doesn't the labor movement make use of your company or your tactics more often, then?

ROGERS: I almost wonder if some union leaders don't want to win. Too many of these so-called union leaders adopt the company's position and strategy. They let the company lay all the ground rules. They spend too much time with corporate officials and not enough time with the members who elected them.

Q: The Clothing and Textile Workers had been trying to organize J.P. Stevens in the South for a long time. How did you come up with the idea of a corporate campaign against them?

ROGERS: For six weeks, I studied and researched the J.P. Stevens Company and lo and behold, I came to the conclusion that there was no way possible to beat J.P. Stevens with a consumer boycott.

So I got a big chart and put a circle in the middle of the chart and said, "This is going to represent J.P. Stevens." Then I drew a whole bunch of arrows coming in from every conceivable angle. I figured out every way I could bring pressure to bear so that there'd be no way out for the company.

I recognized that every major corporation is really a coalition of individual and institutional interests that can be challenged, attacked, divided, and conquered. You've got to be able to identify that coalition of interests as they operate individually and collectively. I had to have a good analysis of who the stockholders are, who the creditors are, and who the top policymakers are.

I did what I call a "Specialized Corporate, Financial, and Political Power Analysis." That's what I do. You take all the large stockholders, the interlocks, whatever information you've got creditwise, and you boil it all down. You get to understand what the strengths and weaknesses of the company are. Then you want to hook up the union's strengths against the company's vulnerabilities.

Q: How did this strategy work in the case of International Paper?

ROGERS: As part of the campaign, we went after PNC Financial Corp. We were looking at the strength of the union: We've got all these workers who are out on strike in Lock Haven. Pennsylvania, and we can use them in a campaign. We saw that W. Craig McClelland is on the board of PNC and is also a senior vice president of International Paper. McClelland is a major player, an in-house guy, and PNC is spread out all over Pennsylvania, so we saw it as a target we could attack all over the state.

Q: Your campaigns often target an outside director, though, someone who only attends board meetings a few times a year and essentially rubber-stamps what the company's management says. For example, you're going after Donald McHenry, the former U.N. ambassador, who's on the board of International Paper, Coca-Cola, and the Bank of Boston. How much does an outside director really have to do with running a company?

ROGERS: Each board member has a vote and a certain amount of power. If everything is running smoothly, they'll go along with what management says. But let's just say that there's a bank with voting control over 10 per cent of your stock. Maybe it's an important creditor too, or it's your link to the financial community. That bank will have somebody from your board on their board, or some other interlock.

When I take my fight to that bank, I start raising the stakes not only for the director who has a vote on the IP board, I'm also raising the stakes for a very important institution that has a great deal of input into what's happening at International Paper. I raise the stakes for that bank and that director to the point where it's no longer profitable for them to continue to rubber-stamp that company's policies. That director is getting heat from the bank board now: "Damn it all, what's going on over there? It's costing us a lot of money, our image, our reputation. Unions are pulling money out, the public is pulling money out, it's bringing up all kinds of issues around our bank we thought we had covered."

All of a sudden the bank is saying to Donald McHenry, "Either this damn thing's got to get settled, or you've got to make a choice, Don: Either you get off our board or you get off International Paper's."

You raise the stakes high enough for the bank that it becomes solely in their interests to get this thing settled. And you create that dynamic not by holding one demonstration and not by making a statement and not by getting coverage in the paper, but by having a relentless campaign that escalates economic and political pressure on the bank and causes them to turn and direct that pressure onto the company. It's divide and conquer at the highest levels of the corporate and financial power structure.

Q: It sounds sensible when there's a direct connection between the two companies, as you've described, but what if it's Coca-Cola, which doesn't have anything to do with International Paper except for this one shared director, Donald McHenry?

ROGERS: Coca-Cola doesn't care what Donald McHenry does in his spare time-until it affects them.

Q: How is it affecting them? Just because they're getting 20,000 pieces of mail?

ROGERS: No, because 20,000 pieces of mail doesn't mean crap. 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."

People ask how you can go after Coke, it's such a big company. International Paper is an $8 billion company. If I take 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, maybe it's $50 million.

Q: A very small piece of Coke's interests.

ROGERS: Right. I always say that power comes from two sources: organized concentrations of money and people. We've figured out a way to break power down into much smaller, more manageable units that you can challenge and divide and conquer.

This is not harassment. I want to be very clear about that. You cannot embarrass or harass powerful corporate or financial powerbrokers into making decisions that are going to cost them millions of dollars. They only respond to really relentless, inescapable economic and political pressure.

Q: What about mobilizing rank-and-filele union members? How is that related to the economic and political pressure you're trying to bring?

ROGERS: Our program is based on common sense: that you should be working as hard to get your job back when you're on strike or locked out as you did when you were working on your job. So the second key element of the strategy was to build the power base of support among all IP unionized workers.

What the Southern offensive down here has done is to prove to this company that these rank-and-file workers can go out and communicate to other workers all across these little Southern mills and build unity. Now these other workers are saying no to the company, they're saying "We're not going to accept these concessions." They're saying to the people from Mobile, "We're going to help finance you in the front lines; we'll get ourselves involved in your campaign." They feel they're not sticking their necks out now, because there's a whole program with a chance of winning. The company realizes that this is the unity they hoped they would never see among these workers.

So you've got pressure coming from the top, and pressure coming from the bottom. The company sees this thing getting bigger and bigger and already it's far bigger than anything they've ever been confronted with. They've never seen anything that is so threatening to them.

Then the third critical element is financial support. We do direct mail, go door to door, sel1 buttons and T-shirts. The whole idea of our "Adopt a P-9 Family" program at Hormel, for example, where we got massive contributions from throughout the labor movement, was that the workers not be starved into submission.

Q: Speaking of starving, did you have any trouble, as a vegetarian, working for a meatpackers' local? Did the workers have trouble accepting you?

ROGERS: No. I asked [Local P-9 President] Jim Guyette two questions before I started working with him. One was whether they were willing to go all the way, to do whatever it took to beat Hormel. He said yes. Then I asked him, if the animals were being mistreated in the plant, would the union protest?

He didn't say anything for a minute-I don't think anyone had ever asked him that question before-but then he said yes. So I said I could work with him.

Q: I've heard it said that your corporate campaign against Hormel was not effective.

ROGERS: When the UFCW [United Food and Commercial Workers] International took on a multimillion-dollar campaign to destroy that local union and myself, and the AFL-CIO backed them up all the way, was that because we weren't being effective? Why were we brought to court by Hormel, because we weren't having any impact?

I'll tell you what was effective was the International working together with the company to the point that they signed a sweetheart contract and made the scabs into the local union.

There have to be reforms in unions like the UFCW. There are some awfully sleazy leaders at the top of the labor movement, and they are the biggest obstacles to workers winning.

Q: What can union members do about that?

ROGERS: They need to build coalitions or caucuses to challenge the leadership. They need to build a movement at their convention and unseat them. That's not going to be easy.

Q: Could your campaign tactics be used in internal union campaigns to unseat leaders?

ROGERS: You're damn right they can.

Q: Another criticism that's often made of you and Corporate Campaign, Inc., is the size of your fees, although I've never heard what those are.

ROGERS: You'll have to ask the union what they're paying us; if they want that to be public information, they'll tell you. When we make our initial presentation to the union of what we propose to do, we set a fee, there are no hidden expenses. We do all the staffing, the literature, the media relations, and we hire people to do that out of our fee. Then we get expenses for travel and a per-diem of $25. But the fact is that we raise much more money than we are paid. The campaign is self-financing for the union in that respect.

I make $30,000 to $32,000 per year. Some of these union officials are shocked when they find out I don't fly first class. As a matter of fact, we have it written into our contract that whenever we can we're supposed to try to get discount fares on the airlines. We are social activists; we're not out to get rich.

We are specialists in what we do. When some people tell me that they know how to analyze companies and they know how to put these campaigns together, I laugh. They don't. The fact of the matter is that I have figured out a way to put a lot of power on the side of the underdog and how to get things to move very, very quickly. We are able to move some of these struggles so fast and so effectively that people have a hard time comprehending what we're doing.

Q: Why doesn't the AFL-CIO leadership make more of a commitment to corporate campaigns?

ROGERS: There are a number of labor leaders out there who are, quite frankly, very comfortable in their positions. If that position isn't threatened, then why change things? They identify too much with the corporate lifestyle and the corporate leadership. There are too many labor leaders who feel more comfortable riding in a corporate jet than they do sitting down talking with rank-and-file workers. On the other hand, there are others who want to find some answers.

Q: How do you respond when some higher-ups in the AFL-CIA say you're not a labor leader?

ROGERS: You want to know something? I don't go around saying I'm a labor leader, but by God I am a labor leader. I'm a leader for workers' struggles, and you know why I'm a leader? Because I give people hope, and I give them direction, and I give them support, and I'm a fighter just like them. I don't get paid a hundred or two hundred thousand bucks a year and wear a three-piece suit and sit down in a fancy restaurant, and if that means that I'm not a labor leader, then I guess they're right, I'm not a labor leader.