An Interview with Ray Rogers
"An Interview with Ray Rogers"
By Seattle journalist Dedra Hauser and Working Papers Senior Editor Robert Howard
Working Papers Magazine
JANUARY-FEBRUARY | 1982
When, after twenty years of virulent anti-unionism, the J.P. Stevens Company finally' signed a contract with the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union, on October 19, 1980, company negotiators insisted that a "unique clause be included, The union had to promise "not to engage in any 'corporate campaign' against the Company" or "in any manner, attempt to effectuate the resignation of the members of the Board of Directors of Stevens, or to effectuate the removal of Stevens executives from the boards of directors of other companies, or to restrict the availability of financial or credit accommodations" to the textile manufacturer.
At ACTWU, they call it the "Ray Rogers clause." For the thirty-seven-year-old Rogers was the mastermind of the highly successful strategy to disrupt and sever J.P. Stevens' relationship with the corporate and financial community. For three-and-a-half years, he pursued it with unflagging determination, often in the face of opposition at ACTWU itself. From. March 1977, when the corporate campaign against Stevens began with a massive demonstration at its annual shareholder meeting, to September 1980, when pressure from Richard Shinn, president of Metropolitan Life Insurance Company — Stevens' biggest creditor and the campaign's final target—forced the textile firm to the bargaining table, Rogers orchestrated one of the most innovative and effective exercises of union power since the CIO sit-down strikes of the 1930s.
The first target of ACTWU's corporate campaign was New York's Manufacturers Hanover bank. In March 1978, Stevens chairman James Finley and board member David Mitchell were forced to resign from the Manufacturers Hanover board. Two weeks later, Mitchell, who as chairman of the Avon Products company became the campaign's second target, also resigned from the Stevens board. Next, Rogers turned his attention to the New York Life Insurance Company. In September 1978, not only was Finley ousted from the New York Life board, but the insurance company’s president, Ralph Manning Brown, Jr., resigned his seat at Stevens. Over the next two years, the campaign focused on a number of corporations tied to the textile company, including Seaman's Bank, Sperry, and, finally, Metropolitan Life. It was the relentless pressure that Rogers brought to bear on Metropolitan president Richard Shinn that eventually led to the ACTWU-Stevens settlement in October 1980.
The Stevens victory was the culmination of Rogers' twelve-year career as a community, political, and labor organizer. From 1967 to 1969, he served as a Vista volunteer in the Appalachian mountains of Tennessee. In 1974, he organized the Amalgamated's successful consumer boycott against the Farah Slacks Company in Birmingham, Alabama. Before moving to the union's central headquarters in New York, he developed his innovative tactics further in yet another successful organizing campaign at the Yale Co-op in New Haven, Connecticut.
These experiences provided Rogers with one basic insight. For all their wealth and influence, the major institutions of corporate America are not "impenetrable bastions of power." Rather, the very competitiveness and self-interest of the business community can be used as a weapon against it. The key is to break corporate power down into manageable pieces, to identify the weak spots and pressure points where unions and other groups can focus their political and economic resources. In the Stevens' campaign, the primary focus was on Stevens' interlocking directorates with major banks and insurance companies. But the target was not so much the individuals involved as the economic power they represented. The ultimate goal of the corporate campaign was to threaten the very financial and institutional underpinnings of the corporation.
During the Stevens campaign, the Wall Street Journal denounced ACTWU for "terrorizing businessmen who do business with Stevens." But, the fact is, corporations play economic hard-ball all the time—against workers, against the public, even against each other. Every threat to close a plant unless employees accept wage cuts, every decision to move to another state unless a city comes up with tax breaks, and every maneuver in a corporate take-over battle reflect the use and abuse of economic power. What distressed the Journal was that, in this instance, workers and their union were wielding their own considerable economic clout and for quite different ends—to curb the abuses of corporate power itself.
For this reason, the significance of the J.P. Stevens corporate campaign goes far beyond the victory of one union over one company. It is an indication of the immense political power of the labor movement to use its political and economic resources for social change. Since the Stevens victory, Rogers has been contacted by a number of unions including the United Food and Commercial Workers, the Communications Workers of America, and the International Typographers. Last year, Rogers left ACTWU to establish Corporate Campaign, Inc., an independent base for his organizing work with unions, religious and community organizations, and other social groups. Recently, however, Rogers — who has always advocated the importance of unions joining together in order to build their political and economic power — has become entangled in the divisions within the labor movement. Corporate Campaign's first major project-on behalf of the Airline Pilots against Texas International Airlines' non-union subsidiary, New York Air—has been sidelined by the splits among the airline unions over the PATCO strike.
But it is unlikely that his difficulties with the New York Air campaign will keep Rogers down for long, He has caught a glimpse of the kind of power that the labor movement could have, and his ambitions reach far beyond designing single campaigns for individual unions. For over a year now, Rogers and the Corporate Campaign staff have been soliciting support for what he says is an "unprecedented" organizing project to be made public later this year. "I can't really say anything about it now, " Rogers told Working Papers, "but I'm so excited, it keeps me awake at nights."
If his Success in the J.P. Stevens campaign is any indication, then the corporate executives and financial planners at the pinnacle of America's power elite may soon be losing some sleep as well. They certainly haven't heard the last of Ray Rogers and his corporate campaign.
This interview was conducted by Seattle journalist Dedra Hauser and Working Papers senior editor Robert Howard.
Working Papers: Your name is associated with the "corporate campaign" that was used by the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers' union in its efforts to force the J.P. Stevens Company to sign a contract. What exactly is a corporate campaign?
Rogers: Here is the definition that I always gave in the Stevens case. The corporate campaign focused primarily on Stevens' corporate headquarters and. on those institutions heavily tied to Stevens' financial interests through interlocking directorates, large stock holdings, and multimillion dollar loans, The goal of the campaign was to cause those institutions tied with Stevens to exert their influence on the company to recognize the rights and dignity of the workers and sit down and bargain in good faith—realizing, of course, that these companies would put pressure on Stevens only if it was in their own primary self-interest. In order to make it in their primary self-interest, these institutions had to be drawn heavily into the Stevens controversy so that their own image, reputation, credibility and prosperity would be seriously jeopardized.
A company like Stevens is like a powerful politician or labor leader. It prospers only so long as it maintains a certain base of support, a broad constituency or power base. For companies, this base is made up of institutions rather than individuals. Corporations need links to credit; management has to keep good relationships with the corporate board members and the outside companies those people represent, and with shareholders who can vote for or against management.
In the corporate campaign against Stevens, we recognized that this constituency existed and that if it began to get turned off to the company—just like if a constituency gets turned off to a politician—then it can start exerting influence or pressure. They can withdraw a certain amount of support in a proxy vote, or in lending money, or in serving as a rubber stamp on the board of directors.
Of course, this power base behind these companies will only exert that influence if you can develop a high-powered campaign that causes so much friction between them and segments of the populace that their own survival is at stake. Whenever you're dealing with these big business people—whether it's the retail people, the bankers, the insurance company executives, or people like JP. Stevens, they've always got a scale of profits and losses in front of their eyes. Basically, you have to force them to do the right thing, what Saul Alinsky called "forcing someone to take the low road to morality."
Now, the ultimate goal of the corporate campaign was, if necessary, to totally alienate and polarize the corporate and financial community away from Stevens, thereby pulling the company's most crucial underpinnings out from underneath it. I maintained way back that a company like Stevens had to continue to spread its influence within the corporate and financial community in order to maintain its present level of business and to grow. Once corporate America or financial America turned off to a company like Stevens en mass, there's only one place for that company to go, if it didn't want to bring about its own destruction. And that's to the bargaining table.
Working Papers: In a way, you're talking about using capitalism against the, capitalists, using the splits in the system, the competition between firms, the fragility of a corporation, and the importance of its having a good public image, against another corporation.
Rogers: Throughout the Stevens campaign, people in the press were saying to me "don't you think corporate America is going to get together and put a stop to this thing?" But they can't. The clear thing to understand when you're dealing with these powerful corporate and financial institutions is that they can only band and work together when something is totally in all their interests. That's the only time they can move in a solid front. But when you get in a situation where you can literally pit one company against another from a competitive angle or a profit angle, they can't band together. And you can always pit one against the other.
Let me give you an example. I had a group of people that were working on putting pressure on the banks to pull money out of South Africa. So they came and said, "Here's our plan of attack: we've lined up a half a dozen banks here in New York and we're going to hold a demonstration at one bank and then right after that one we're going to hold a demonstration against another bank," I said to them, "Look, after you run your second demonstration you have just negated what you did at the first. When you run your third, you've just negated what you've done at the last two." You don't create any alternatives; you spread the pressure over everybody so it's not really affecting any one particular institution. The best thing to do would be to pick out the biggest, most powerful Institution, draw your battle lines there, and literally go out to annihilate that institution.
You have to create a situation where you're beating on one institution. They're taking heavy losses, and all the other institutions are standing behind saying, "Whatever you do, don't set a precedent, don't give in to those people out there." But finally, the institution that you're putting pressure on (assuming it's really intense and that you really are creating some problems) is going to say, "Hey, wait a minute. We're losing a lot of business. And where is that business going? It's going to you, our competitors and to your banks. You're benefiting at our expense. So if you don't want to set a precedent then don't you set it, but we're getting out of this thing." That's the type of thing that happened to Manufacturers Hanover.
Working Papers: Lets turn to the specifics of the J.P. Stevens corporate campaign. When did you first think about using these tactics against Stevens?
Rogers: Well, I really formulated the whole concept of a corporate strategy in the spring of 1976. I was with the Amalgamated* at the time, and I was loaned to the Textile Workers' union which was going to merge with the Amalgamated. I took a big chart and put a circle in the center of the chart saying "that's J.P. Stevens." I drew all these arrows from every angle coming into that circle. Each of these arrows represented a pressure campaign.
Some of those strategies made up what I conceptualized as a financial campaign. Then I changed the name to "corporate campaign" because the lawyers got very concerned when I said I was doing a financial campaign. They said that it implied that maybe we were trying to cut off somebody's credit or put some type of secondary boycott on them or something.
Once corporate and financial America was turned off to a company like Stevens, there was only one place for them to go — to the bargaining table.
(*In 1976, the 140.000-member Textile Workers Union of America merged with the 360,OOO-member Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union to form the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union (ACTWU).
Working Papers: How did you go about selling your ideas to the union? Was that difficult?
Rogers: There were some disagreements between the two unions and myself as they were merging, so I left for a period of six months. I was not with the union when the merger took place in June of 1976, or when they announced the national boycott against J.P. Stevens products, In fact, after I had done my research and planning, I had told the union it was a real mistake to try to put tremendous pressure on Stevens through a consumer boycott. I said that a consumer boycott should only be one aspect of a multifaceted campaign and that major resources shouldn't go into it.
Working Papers: Why were you opposed to the boycott as the union's prime strategy?
Rogers: I didn't feel that it would ever be able to exert enough economic pressure to bring Stevens to the bargaining table. Less than one-third of Stevens' products were reachable through a consumer boycott. Also, the laws as perceived by the attorneys made organizing an effective consumer boycott very difficult. They wouldn't allow pickets in front of stores; the union never had any informational pickets because the lawyers thought it might be interpreted as a secondary boycott. They were very, very conservative in their attitudes. It took time for our boycott coordinators even to be allowed to distribute leaflets in front of stores. For a long time, they had to be a full block away just to distribute leaflets saying, "Please don't buy Stevens' products."
But my main objections to the boycott were economic. Very rarely do you ever win a consumer product boycott by turning off enough consumers to buying that product. The problem with J.P. Stevens' was that there were an incredible number of brand names and it was very difficult to identify the product. I have to give the boycott organizers a tremendous amount of credit for the work that they did under the most difficult circumstances. But I felt that the boycott, at best, could exert very little economic pressure. Rather, it was a real political tool that developed a lot of public sentiment for the Stevens workers' cause.
Working Papers: Once you finally got the go-ahead from the union to pursue this strategy, how did the corporate campaign begin?
Rogers: The first action was the attack on Stevens' shareholders meeting in March 1977. I felt that the annual shareholders meeting should be a major battleground each year for three reasons. One, it's the only place that you're guaranteed being able to confront, eyeball to eyeball, face to face, the highest officials of the company and intimidate them in the way that they've intimidated the workers for so many years.
Secondly, I wanted to have such a confrontation that it would raise the level of consciousness of the national press to what the Stevens struggle was all about; which it did. And thirdly, and most importantly to me in terms of the overall development of the corporate campaign, I wanted this great visual display, this confrontation, to serve as a warning to the rest of the corporate and financial community that anybody heavily tied in with Stevens' interests would be held accountable by a broad coalition of not only labor groups; but political, religious, student, women's organizations, you name it. They would be challenged by all of these groups that were fighting for a moral cause and social justice.
The year before the union merger the Textile Workers decided to do a stockholders action. I had been with the union only two days. They had about thirty people outside of Stevens' corporate headquarters with picket signs and a banner, and about eleven people on the inside with stock proxies. I said, "If this doesn't make the unions look weak and the Stevens struggle look unimportant, I don't know what would. The union would be better off not even going to the meeting and preparing for next year." The whole concept in my mind was that there's only one way to confront power and that's with power and this was certainly not indicative of a power confrontation.
So in 1977, instead of a total of about 41 people there, we had over 4,000 people demonstrating outside the meeting and over 600 people lined up with stock proxies almost two hours before the meeting began. We were actually ready to go in there with far more than 600, but the company would only let one person in per proxy rather than the stated three, which is the normal number. As it turned out, the company had to open up a cafeteria and all available space within the company was filled up.
It was one of the longest meetings ever to take place. But, in no circumstances did I view this confrontation as the blow that would bring Stevens to its knees. I had no delusions of grandeur. I simply saw it as one strategic part—the first punch—of an overall strategy.
Working Papers: But how did you choose your targets? Why was Manufacturers Hanover first, for example?
Rogers: I picked Manufacturers Hanover first simply because here was this big powerful institution that has the highest official of Stevens, James Finley, on its board, It also has David Mitchell, the chief officer of Avon and member of the Stevens board, on it. These two institutions, both headquartered in New York, were very vulnerable to the type of strategy that I could go after them with. Also, it was important that Manufacturers Hanover was a bank. Even though banks are among the most powerful institutions in the world, a big bank is also very vulnerable, because they don't own what they control. They survive and prosper only so long as they have the support of working people and the organizations that represent them.
I knew that there had to be a Jot of unions with their money deposited in Manufacturers Hanover and there had to be a lot of union members that had money at Manufacturers Hanover and there probably had to be a lot of union funds invested in the stock of Manufacturers Hanover. Whether you're talking about savings or checking accounts from the individual members of the organization or all the way up to the pension, welfare, and strike funds. No matter how you looked at it, by the nature of how big Manufacturers Hanover was and its situation in New York and how much the labor movement is concentrated in New York, I just simply knew that Manufacturers Hanover wanted to keep a good relationship with organized labor. Even though they had an important, profitable relationship with the J.P. Stevens Company, I felt that relationship could be diminished if I could create so much friction between Manufacturers Hanover and large segments of the population, particularly organized labor, that they would lose a lot more by continuing their relationship with Stevens.
So, I decided to go after Manufacturers Hanover in a real powerful confrontation at their annual meeting. I was going to take all the seats up at the Waldorf Astoria, six or seven hundred. But, as it turned out, after the blow-out at the Stevens annual meeting, I ran into all kinds of problems with the lawyers. I was not allowed to mobilize a big confrontation at the Manufacturers Hanover stockholders meeting.
Working Papers: What did they say?
Rogers: They were concerned about a number of things. They were concerned about the potential for lawsuits, which I couldn't understand at all. I couldn't understand why we didn't have a right to go in and do anything we wanted at the stockholders meeting.
Number two, they were also concerned that Manufacturers Hanover was such a powerful institution. What was their reaction going to be? I think another consideration was that no one believed in the corporate strategy at this point. No one in their right mind, except maybe myself and a couple of people close to me, believed initially.
So this was a real crossroads in the corporate campaign. I had to make a very hard decision. This was eight days before the Manufacturers Hanover meeting. I was told that I was not going to be allowed to go into that meeting with 700 people. Actually they didn't even want me to go into the meeting at all. If I did, they only wanted me to go in with a handful of people and raise a few little Issues.
Here I had just pulled off something by confronting power with power. Now they wanted me to walk into Manufacturers Hanover, that was so tied in with Stevens and that could exert so much influence and pressure on Stevens. Now they wanted mc to walk into that big powerful institution in what I considered a position of weakness, not strength. If I walk in with a handful of people or fifteen or twenty people, as far as I am concerned that was just showing them weakness and a lessening of the forces that I had just shown I could mobilize a couple of months earlier.
The union lawyers handed me a fifty-page brief opposing my corporate strategy. I said to them, "This is a dangerous document. You're taking away my basic freedoms—freedom of speech, freedom of assembly..."
So finally I got the attorney saying, "We'll let you go in with twenty-five or fifty." Finally, I got him up to one hundred. But I said, "Quite frankly, if I have to go in from a position of weakness, I think I'll just scrap the whole idea." That was fine with them, Issue settled.
I happened to be living in a hotel over by Madison Square Garden and I was real depressed. There would be no corporate campaign. I really believed in what I was doing and in the foundation I had just laid at the confrontation at the Stevens' stockholders meeting. So that night at four in the morning I'm walking down Seventh Avenue really depressed saying to myself. "What am I going to do to continue this thing and to force this concept through the union?"
I decided that I just had to go into Manufacturers Hanover. They said I could have fifty or a hundred so I'll bring a hundred people in there. And, you know, I'm concerned about the South Africa issue, so what I'll do is go to the anti-apartheid people and say to them, "Look, I'm only allowed to bring a hundred people in but I want you people to know that the people I bring in will support the South Africa resolution and what I want you people who are really going in on the South Africa resolution to do is help get as many of your people as possible in there and support us on J.P. Stevens."
So we both went in there and we literally took the meeting over for about forty-five minutes to an hour. We raised the issues beautifully, I later learned that shortly thereafter, the directors of Manufacturers Hanover got together and they wanted to approach Finley and have him resign. The decision was made to wait and see if anything else happened.
Working Papers: So that's when the corporate campaign started in earnest?
Rogers: No. I immediately wanted to go from that confrontation, which turned out to be quite successful, to really confront Manufacturers Hanover. I wanted informational pickets, I would have liked to have organized a boycott of the bank. But the lawyers put me on hold from May 1977 to November 1977. They prepared a forty- or fifty- page brief explaining why the corporate strategy I had outlined was not viable, the concerns they had, and why it was a concept that really should not be considered. I took one look at it — I wasn't allowed to take it out of the building — and simply said, "Look this is a dangerous document because what you're doing is taking away my basic freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of assembly." I told them, "The choice here is, either somebody shows me a reason why the corporate campaign should not become a reality or I'm leaving. It comes down to that."
Earlier, I had gotten one mailing out describing Manufacturers Hanover's links with J.P. Stevens. At first, I wasn't allowed to send any more. The letter said that Manufacturers Hanover has these interlocks; they lend this amount of money to Stevens. Do you have any relationship to Manufacturers Hanover? As a result of this letter, I began to get a wealth of information from certain unions that had substantial amounts of money in . Manufacturers Hanover.
I was also under restrictions not to ask anybody specifically to boycott Manufacturers Hanover. But I didn't have to. I knew that I could develop a campaign creating so much friction between Manufacturers Hanover and large segments of the population important to that company's overall growth and prosperity that these organizations with money in Manufacturers Hanover would simply start telling Manufacturers Hanover what they would do on their own.
As I started getting all kinds of letters coming in, because I was getting copies of people's correspondence with the bank, I began to add up the kind of money that people were threatening to pull out of Manufacturers Hanovers and I realized that I was dealing with hundreds of millions of dollars. I said, "I've got an incredible story here." So, I decided that it was time that the press knew what I was doing. I showed the letters to the union attorneys and said, "I think it's big enough to make Newsweek, Time, the big magazines and everything." They said to me straight out, "You cannot distribute those letters to the press. If you do that you can possibly be accused of instigating some kind of secondary boycott activity."
Quite frankly, I question whether it's a secondary boycott to ask people to pull money out of a bank. It's not like a retail store where you're saying. "Don't do any business with them," because they have a relationship with your primary target. In the case of a bank, that's your money. You have every right, for whatever reason, to go and take that money out, particularly when there's a chance of that money's being loaned to an institution that you want no part in supporting.
I reminded the lawyers that earlier I had written a letter that said that periodically I would publish a list thanking everybody who writes a letter to Manufacturers Hanover for what they had done. When I reminded them of this, the lawyers said, "0. K., you can go ahead." But I also sent the list over to certain key people in the press. I told them that [ had all these letters from all these organizations, and I told them frankly, off the record, Manufacturers Hanover is being threatened with a situation that could make their profitable relationship with J.P. Stevens no longer profitable." Well, one thing led to another, I told them off the record what was contained in the letters and, of course, they wanted copies. I just told them that there were particular unions that they would probably be most interested in contacting, and if they called enough unions, they would find that the money added up to hundreds of millions of dollars.
Working Papers: Did the opposition of the union lawyers ever stop?
Rogers: No, I was constantly in conflict with the attorneys. Oh, there were plenty of instances where we worked together and hashed things out. But it was a constant battle because at first nobody thought that this concept would work. Even when they began to' see some of the incredible power plays we pulled off they didn't understand where it was going to end. Yet, I had the whole thing laid out in my mind. And I realized that the real power was with the insurance industry; that was who could force Stevens 'to the bargaining table overnight.
After the Manufacturers Hanover and Avon resignations, ACTWU secretary-treasurer Jack Sheinkman began to see .the power inherent in what I was up to. As a result, he became very closely allied with the campaign and kept a close eye on it. In September 1978, I told him, "I don't know if people will really comprehend what I'm saying, but I feel that we can end the Stevens campaign rather quickly if we can get New York Life into a situation where they will challenge us to pull off what we threaten to do, "
Working Papers: What makes the insurance industry so important to the Stevens campaign, and what were you threatening to do?
Rogers: Well, first of all of course, insurance companies have vast pools of capital and they are major corporate leaders. New York Life, Metropolitan, and Equitable controlled between 70 and 80 percent of Stevens' long term debt. These were credit relationships that Stevens just had to maintain. Second, mutual policy holders are actually considered the owners of the insurance company where they have their policy and they have the right to nominate people to the board. What I was proposing was unprecedented: to rim our own candidates for the board of directors of the major mutual insurance companies.
Now, this is just never done and there's a reason why it's never done. First of all, the way the insurance law is written, unless you have an overriding issue, it's nearly impossible to pull one of these things off. Unless you have incredible resources and expertise behind you and an issue to work with, it would be very difficult given the way the New York State law is written. A better law couldn't be written by the insurance company executives themselves. In fact, I'm sure they had great input in writing this law.
Every year, one-third of the board of directors of one of these mutual life insurance companies headquartered in New York goes up for re-election. If one-tenth of 1 percent of the policy holders in the company sign a petition in support of an alternate slate of candidates other than the company's slate, then you have what's called a contested election. You have between five and eight months prior to the election date to get that one-tenth of 1 percent. In the case of New York Life, with six-and-a-half million policy holders, you need 6,500 valid signatures. In the case of Metropolitan with 23 million policy holders that was 23,000 valid signatures.
Now that's not an easy thing to get when you don't even know who the policy holders are out there. There's a section of the law that says twenty-five policy holders can petition the State Department of insurance for access to the policy holder list. But that's still at the whim of the state insurance department and it becomes a great political decision. Whether they allow it or not depends on what kind of force you have behind you. But by this time, the J.P. Stevens workers had built up an awful lot of political support.
If you get one-tenth of 1 percent signing the petition, then the company for the first time in its history has a contested election and they have to mail a ballot out with both slates to all their policy holders. Once you have a contested election, company personnel cannot use company money to solicit votes for themselves. They have to raise all their own money. You've got to understand that the reason one of these elections has never taken place before was the incredible procedure one had to go through: soliciting the signatures, the legal work to get the list, and the huge cost of mailings and phone calls.
Another reason why no one would ever venture into one of these elections is, first of all, most people don't even know it exists. You have to get the financial report of one of these companies and find a sentence that says there will be an election this year. If you want to vote in it, you have to write the company for a ballot. But why would anybody write the company for the ballot when there's only one slate of candidates and it's always the company's slate? So the most people that had ever really voted in this election up until about a year or two ago was about 500-600 people.
So you can imagine what the insurance companies felt when we went after them. Number one, they were guaranteed year round bad publicity linking them to the J.P. Stevens Company. Now, these insurance companies manage union pension funds. They have big insurance contracts with unions. And they have thousands of insurance contracts with individual union members. And, finally, they saw that, if you ever got this election campaign going, you'd open up a Pandora's box for the entire insurance industry. And, you know, they didn't know how many people out there didn't like them-whether it was 1,000, 2,000, 50,000, or a million. So they would have to raise millions and millions of dollars to run their own campaign and make sure that they won. Forget about the several million dollars of company money they would have to use just to mail the ballots out and conduct an election under the law. So you can see the reason why we had so much power.
When we went after New York Life, I told the union, "If New York Life calls our bluff, I guarantee that we can get the signatures. And once we get the signatures, I guarantee you that not only will New York Life want out of this campaign, but every insurance company in the country will want no part of it." Now this is an example of where it's no longer a competitive factor, where you work one off against another. This was in the interests of the whole insurance industry. I had created a situation that no company wanted any part of.
So I knew what I could do now if New York Life forced us to file the signatures. I told the union, "At that time, we'll call on the heads of New York Life, the heads of Metropolitan, and the heads of Equitable. We'll sit them. in a closed room and we'll simply say to them, we're not getting out of this campaign until we've settled with Stevens." We wouldn't have to mention about the power they have over Stevens; they know about the millions of dollars they're lending to Stevens. We wouldn't have to say to them, "threaten to cut off Stevens' credit lines," because we simply know that with the power and influence they have, they'll know they will have to do the right thing.
Working Papers: But New York Life backed down. They forced Finley off the board.
Rogers: Yes. They got out, and then our lawyers said we couldn't go after them anymore because we might get ourselves into some kind of a secondary boycott situation — where we're trying to cut off a financial relationship rather than split the interlocking directorates.
Working Papers: So then Metropolitan Life became the target?
Rogers: Well, here is where things get a little complicated. My ultimate target was Metropolitan Life. But I had to figure out a way to go after them while still getting around the concerns of the union leadership and lawyers that we not appear to threaten Metropolitan's financial relationship with Stevens. Because, you see, there was no interlock; no one from Metropolitan served on the J.P. Stevens board.
Working Papers: So you had to find another tactic.
Rogers: I had to find some way to personalize it. First, I thought about going after Goldman Sachs, a big investment banker. One of Sachs' partners interlocked with Stevens. And there was a family connection between Sachs and Metropolitan. But then, while investigating the Sperry company — where [Stevens executive] Finley was a member of the board — I discovered that Richard Shinn, the head of Metropolitan Life, was also on Sperry's board. He was also on the four-member nominating committee that had renominated the Stevens' director to the Sperry board, over objections. Shinn himself had gotten telegrams from the head of the insurance workers union, he had been warned on other occasions from other people in some letters, he saw the onslaught of correspondence coming into Sperry.
I went in to the union on August 22, 1980, and I told Sheinkman what we had. I thought I was going to have a two-hour meeting, that I was going to have to fight like hell with attorneys. But Jack listened to me for five minutes and said, "Go, go do it."
And, sure enough, once Richard Shinn found out what we were up to, it was all over. On Thursday, September 25, we filed the 25 names with the state Department of Insurance, indicating that we wanted access to the Metropolitan Life policy holder list and that we were going to run a contested decision—that we were going to run candidates for the board just like New York Life. They informed Metropolitan Life.
I was told that on that Friday Richard Shinn called Harry van Arsdale, president of New York City central labor council and said, "look, I want a meeting with the top officers of ACTWU as quick' as I can get it." On Monday, Metropolitan Life's attorneys called our law firm and said, "Met Life wants no part of this campaign You gave New York Life a reasonable way out, now give us a reasonable way out. "
Banks survive only so long as they have the support of working people and the organizations that represent them.
It's not just a matter of organizing a confrontation; it's a matter of disorganizing your adversary.
The attorneys did what I said. They told them, "We don't think there is any way out of this." Then Shinn made it known to van Arsdale that he would cancel all appointments, including his dentist appointment in Connecticut, in order to get a meeting with the president of our union. They met that Tuesday morning. September 30.
I was told later that day that negotiations with Stevens would go non-stop until there was a settlement. We agreed to postpone for a week the hearing with. the state Department of Insurance on access to Met Life's policy holder list. See, Met Life didn't even want that precedent set, that's how powerful this was. It was all over. Once Shinn said that, we knew it was all over.
Working Papers: You have talked a lot about how you had to fight the union laws at every step of the corporate campaign. And there has been some criticism of ACTWU for not gelling as good a contract as they might have for the . J.P. Stevens workers. Do you think that the union understood what kind of power they had over Stevens? Did they use that power to get as good a contract as they could for the unionized Stevens workers?
Rogers: Well, looking at it from my perspective, I don't feel that all the negotiators of the union really recognized just how much power they had. It was only at the very highest levels of the union that a few people really saw the power that the corporate campaign had generated and understood what it was all about. Many ACTWU staff people could not understand why there was this thing called the "corporate campaign." Even after it was over and the union was holding press conferences, the corporate campaign was hardly mentioned.
But, even if I criticize the way the union set its campaign priorities, you can't criticize the incredible commitment that they made to the workers. i don't know of any union that has ever made a bigger commitment than ACTWU. They put all their resources behind that battle in support of those workers there. So I have great admiration for the tremendous commitment that the union made in terms of putting the whole union on the line.
Working Papers: Do you think the labor movement has assimilated the lessons of the J.P. Stevens corporate campaign?
Rogers: No. But interest in the corporate campaign concept is growing, and I feel that the thinking behind the corporate campaign has to be understood and assimilated if organized labor is to regain its waning influence and respect, really help the poor, and serve as this nation's most progressive social and political force. I think that the labor movement is the only viable force in the country that could create the kind of non-violent revolution that we need. I don't see any other force in society that can create that kind of dramatic social change. The labor movement. has the potential power, but there's a big difference between having potential and exercising that potential. You have to begin from an understanding that people's struggles against big institutions are power struggles and that power should only be confronted with power. You cannot confront powerful institutions and expect to gain any meaningful concessions unless you're backed by significant power yourself.
Now, some people ask why I would take on multibillion dollar banks and insurance companies to beat little $1.8 biliion JP. Stevens. Met Life was $45 billion; New York Life was $18 billion; Manufacturers Hanover, $40 million. It sounds like there is a contradiction there. The important thing to realize is that when I took on Manufacturers Hanover, I was not taking on $40 billion in power; I was only taking on what JP. Stevens was worth to Manufacturers Hanover—maybe it was $50 or $60 million.
See, I broke down the power into pieces that I could work with. So it's not just a matter of "organizing" a confrontation; it's a matter of "disorganizing" your adversary. In the corporate campaign, basically what we did was to disorganize the entire power structure behind J.P. Stevens.
The problem with the labor movement today is that its own power is fragmented and disorganized. And this is sad because its potential is so great. One thing that labor has to do is organize its own economic power. Now, you have a situation where a union goes in to organize workers and a lot of them say, "Well, even if I vote for the union, I'm still not going to get a good contract, so why stick my neck out?" People want to feel that if they are going to be associated with a union, the union really has to have something to offer them—an instrument of power to fight back and help create the kind of society they think we ought to be living. in. People don't see that. They see a flabby institution that is not moving forward but backward. They see that it doesn't really challenge those who threaten the rights of people. They also see that it has become part of the status quo.
One of the things that's a real problem with some of the highest echelons of the labor movement is you always hear about how they get together with corporate executives in these labor-management groups. "Let's sit down together and deal with our problems." That's fine, if labor is recognized as a power that doesn't have to settle. But until then, labor leaders should be developing well-formulated campaign plans aimed at balancing the tremendous imbalance of power that exists today so that when they do sit down their talks will be meaningful and productive.
What the labor movement has done that I really criticize is they have turned more and more to lawyers to fight their battles. The more they turn to lawyers to fight their battles, the more they forget how to organize for power. They forget the importance of building coalitions and how to most effectively organize their economic and political forces.
I hear the unions now, they're all bitching so much .about these anti-union management consulting firms. "How can we legislate them out?" Ah, who cares! I wouldn't take a minute worrying how to legislate them out. I would develop a strategy that would knock them out. Every time something happens, they turn to their "friendly Congressmen." It's crazy. Why is it that the labor movement raises all this money and then tries to figure out, usually, which businessman they should give it to? It makes no sense. Why don't they run their own candidates?
Working Papers: You're talking about a labor party?
Rogers: A labor party would be fine, or you could talk about the Democratic Party. But run your own candidates at least; don't go out and support businessmen.
A lot of labor leaders simply lack vision, You know, sometimes I walk into the office of some high labor official, and inevitably I see a nice clean desk and I see plaques on the wall. I don't see any charts; I don't see any maps; and I don't see any papers laying around all over the place. I begin to ask myself, "What are they doing?" O.K., I know what they're doing. They are serving an important function. They are administering; they head a big bureaucracy and I'm not belittling them for that. But, damn it all, then they have to go one step further and start bringing in people they will support who can develop a strategy to help the powerless in this society to really fight back.
Working Papers: Now, if Lane Kirkland called you up tomorrow and said, Ray, I want you to set up a labor center for corporate campaigns," or something like that, what would you do?
Rogers: Well, I would look for a way to really put workers in the labor movement on the offensive. I would try to get all the international unions to feed into a central computer bank a list of where they have all their money deposited, where they have their insurance policies, where they have their investments. I'd go one step further and try to get them to reach out to all their affiliates and locals in order to find out where they've deposited their funds, investments, and so on. And while you're organizing' this information on the membership, you can educate them as to how capital has been used against their interests in the past and how it can be used in a dramatic way to promote their interests in the future.
The central computer bank with all that information can be controlled by. a group of elected representatives. And not just union representatives. Here's a great way for the unions to build coalitions with outside groups. Any outside group or any union that feeds information into the computer would then have access to the information. If you feed in, you can take out. So if you're planning your own corporate campaign against some company, you can immediately find out what unions, what other groups have links to that company and can put pressure on it.
At the same time, I would establish a team of professional troubleshooters who would have a great deal of expertise in al! the facets of political and community organizing and in how to develop and execute corporate financial strategies. I would send these teams out to trouble areas to help groups who wanted to confront powerful adversaries.
The power elite get their power because they control the timing and direction of the flow of mil- lions and billions of dollars of capital. And what do they do with their control? They make decisions that undermine the ideals upon which the labor movement was built, that determine whether we have high or low unemployment, whether we build or destroy regional or even national economies, whether we have an international atmosphere more conducive to war or peace. We must recognize concentrated economic power leads to concentrated political power and to great social inequities. For that equation to be reversed so that we have a more just and equitable society, we must break up or disperse the concentrations of economic power, The key political issue to be debated in this country is who controls the flow of capital, and for what ends.