Labor organizer Ray Rogers:; 'fighting power with power'
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The union did not always follow his unorthodox advice, and he left it for a time in 1977. But his publicity campaigns, demonstrations, and organizing of investors and sympathetic activist groups, all targeted at prominent companies or investors, had an effect. Rogers claims that his threat to lead a costly contest in Metropolitan Life's shareholder elections was the final catalyst to last November's settlement -- which came after some last-minute moves by Metropolitan Life chairman Richard Shinn.Skip to next paragraph
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"The union will never admit it, Stevens will never admit it to the press, Metropolitan Life will never direct it to the press, but I know what happened -- I know that Stevens was threatened to have its credit lines cut off."
Whatever Roger's unsubstantiated claims, J. P. Stevens did insist on a clause in the new union contract prohibiting workers from using corporate campaign tactics against it in the future. He proudly points to this sharp prohibition as proof that his methods work.
"What I did is I took the power, all the power that Stevens had behind it, and I broke it down into segments that we could deal with, that we could confront and defeat. . . ."
Rogers says that business today is more dependent on credit and the political climate, and powerful financial institutions behind business are susceptible to both popular pressure and the influence of billions of dollars in union pension fund accounts. He says that he intends to take advantage of this credit and investment connection (which he terms the "Achilles' heel" of business) to use capital in the interests of what he sees as powerless people -- minorities and workers.
Because banking and financial structures are still centered in highly unionized areas like New York City, he sees union pressure on capital as a way to protect organizing efforts in Sunbelt states more antagonistic to unions.
Rogers's critics, found in both labor and business, claim that in his new capacity as a professional, free-lance organizer, he aims mainly to make money and a name for himself.
They note that his new case, New York Air, involves a highly paid profession (airline pilots) which is not as popular a cause as the Southern textile workers at Stevens.
Rogers admits that he will have to rely more heavily on a boycott campaign than he did at Stevens. Picketing by union airline workers has already started at airports serviced by New York Air, as has a mailing campaign and publicity drive. With AFL-CIO support, financial pressure on New York Air has begun.
As for his own salary, he said he is paid $425 a week by his corporation, consisting of himself and his assistant, Ed Allen. Any profits, Rogers says, will be plowed back into future campaign efforts and free aid to community and labor organizers. He would not specify these future efforts, but says he does have plans if the New York Air drive is successful.
He's fighting to see that it is.
"You take any antiunion organizer from out there, and I don't care, I'll take him on. . . . But what we do isn't easy . . . I can only say what I say to my mom all the time. I say, 'Ma, quite frankly I may fall on my face . . . but there's no question I believe that I've developed some concepts . . . that must be adopted if the underdog in society is ever going to have a chance, to create that dispersion of power.'