Labor organizer Ray Rogers:; 'fighting power with power'
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"One of the best things that ever happened to me was that I had the living daylights beaten out of me by a bully."Skip to next paragraph
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Punching at the air again, the burly Rogers describes how, as a sickly child, he took up weight lifting and trained to fight.
"I was so scared stiff for three years," he says of those childhood bullies, "and it never happened to me again" after he finally stood up to them and made them run away.
"The only thing that might really rile me up, and it does rile me up, is for somebody -- unless they're a lot smaller and then it doesn't work, or there's more than one -- to come up to me and say, 'You're gonna do as we say' . . . and I don't care if there are 100 people there, I'm not gonna do it, and I'm not gonna run."
The same qualities of self-discipline and will that Rogers put into training himself to fight and overcome physical weakness is evident in his organizing work -- in what he says is often a seven-day, sometimes 12-hour-a-day, workweek.
His drive also shows itself in an ability to orchestrate a broad coalition of people and interests, as he did in the Stevens campaign.
"I've taken some people that would really like to come to heads with each other. You get the people together, you get them in a winning program, you get them working . . . you don't have time to fight among one another. . . .
"I think a lot of organizers make the mistake of rushing out and trying to get people to change their whole life styles for what they think is such an important issue. Me, no matter what the issue is, I view everybody as a little building block and I just want to get a little piece of their time, and by taking this huge force of little commitments I make one big powerful force."
Rogers thinks many labor unions today lack the qualities of a fighting movement, resorting to legal suits and demonstrations without any ongoing strategy.
"The reason I came up with this whole idea [of corporate campaigns] . . . is that I got so fed up with seeing community groups and unions build a demonstration and that was the beginning and end of their conceptualized strategy . . . unless it was to prepare for a bigger demonstration. . . .
"I hope I will be showing the unions during the coming year the kinds of strategy that's necessary to challenge the corporate and financial structures," says Rogers of his plans for a corporate campaign aimed at New York Air.
During the Stevens campaign, Rogers helped forge a coalition of unions, church groups, students, and others to pressure banks and insurance companies providing Stevens with necessary credit. They used shareholder meetings and elections, as well as publicity, demonstrations, and union investments, to challenge the companies' financial support of Stevens.
"Most people even today don't realize what really happened in the Stevens campaign," Rogers claims. "Most people only viewed them [successes in pressuring Steven's creditors] as isolated, they never viewed them in the context of an overall strategy that had a beginning A and an end Z."
He credits careful assessment and long-range planning for the success of his strategy. Rogers says that in 1976 he determined the major sources of Steven's credit, and he began to make the Stevens account more trouble than it was worth for these financial backers.