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The Sun Interview: Uaw President Leonard Woodcock

The Sun Interview: Uaw President Leonard Woodcock image The Sun Interview: Uaw President Leonard Woodcock image
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Mayor. Calcinan Yoúng has callea the 1976 national elections "comparable in significance to those oj '1860, in tema of determining a basic direction for the nátion. " And this mar wéll be the year ihal many majar political, economie, and social reform propasáis reeeive their first real national debate. Attention is focused on the Democratie Párty, and the possibility that it willadopt some of these refarms info its platform and nomínate a candidatc who wil! push them. Leonard Waodcoek, the 64-year-old President of the United Auto Workcrs, has emerged as a majar spokesperson for sueh reforms as national economie planning, a ful! cmployment poliey, national Health usurante, tax reform, and a guaranteed national incomc. Through his pawerfu! position in the Democratie Party, based on his leadership of l'A miition ua w members Woodcock hasjoeused lus energies on formubting u progressive social platform and persuading Democrats hoping for the nominatiön to pledge support for it. Woodcock, who luul 35 years of Union organizing experience to liis credit by the time he succeeded WalterP. Reuthèras UAW President in 1970, grew up in England and moved to Detroit with lus parents in 1926. Afterattending Wayne (then Detroit City College and Walsh Institute of Accountancy for a time, he dropped out during the Depression and eventually went to work at the Detroit (ear and Machine División of Borg-Warner Corporation, where he oined hisjirst union and begait.his eareer of labor aelivism. Woodcock 's father, who was invoJved in organizing auto workers before the UA It' was formal, participated in one of the first strikes a spontaneous walkant in Februarv 1933 at the Motor Products Plant on Mack Avenue. The younger Woodcock joined Norman Thomas' Socialist Party that sanie ycur, and was eleeted to its National Executive Commitieein 1940, splitting from the party shortly afterwurd over its pacifist position on the war. The SUN spèni an hourand a half talking with Leonard Woodcock last week in his office al international House, the UA W's heudcpiarters at 8000 l'.ast Jefferson. In rhis initial segment of that interview, he talks about the essentials of his list of priorities for the Democratie Party and about the 1976 nationat elections. SUN: Coulil vou eompare the poliücaland economie situatiou during the Depression to our present circumstances? Do vou find some similarilies'.' WOODCOCK: I don't think so, nol in a real'sense. And there are some differences wliich are ratlier foreboding for the future. The whole working class was depressed at that time, and desperate. But now we are creating a kind of permanent sub-class, whicli we didn't have in those days; maybe il was there in embryonic form, but we weren 't conscious of it. And a permanent sub-class wliicli is closed out of the economie society -I don't know how that can continue over time. You know, except for welfare, there was absolutely no assistance of any kind. Once you losl your job, that was it. lf it hadn't been for the sitdown strike -I'm sure if we'd had a traditional-type strike at General Motors in '37, that strike would have been put down in blood. because the whole history of managernent-labor in this country is one of violent confrontation. In the tooi and die suike of '39, 1 was on the picket lines here in Detroit and in Pontiac, and I just know ihai many of those who wem back to work so we cali them "scabs," but ihey weren't scabs in today's sense, because they were literally desperate men with hungry kids to feed. You could just see the shame on their faces as they would go back. Now, I personally missed all the excitement of the sitdown period, because 1 discovered in the summer of '36 lliat 1 had tuberculosis, and so I was in a sanitarium during all of that period. 1 was in what is now Metropolitan Hospital (at Woodward and Davison). and one day I'm looking out the window and I see a red van driving up, which I recognized as having been the Socialist Party of Michigan's van. But it is now painted "United Automobile Woikers," and I see Norman Thomas step out. It's outside visiting hours, and the superintendent brings him in for a visit. After he's gone, the superintendent comes in and says, "You know Norman Thomas? He's a wonderful man. 1 heard him speak at Royal Óak High School a few months ago." I said, "Yes, I was the Chairman of that meeting." He said, "Oh, he's such a wonderful man." And he lowered his voice so my roommate couldn't hear. "What 's he having to do with all those radical UAW people?" SUN: Could you charáctérize some óf the elements vóü [cel woufd bc essential to a pragressive platform for the Democratie Party in the coming elections? WOODCOCK: Well. I just don't think that we can contémplate the possibility of mass unemployment stretching years into the future without d rea d ful consequences. l'm fully convinced we've got to make a fuU-scale commitment to full eniployment. 1 . am further convinced that we can't do that without democratie economie national planning. And by that, I don't mean an entirely centralized system. It should, first of all, gei the government far more orderly than it is. because now it works so often at crosspurpóses one branph against another, one agency ïgainst another. This luis to be the top pnority on the nation's agenda, because unless we can begin to solve the economie problem, then the questions ol minonty nglits, women s nghts, etc, are going to be increasingly difficult to attain. It'll be group against group, and it '11 be just a battle for economie survival. I don't mean just at the lowest level, but increasingly at higher levéis. I certainly put national health insurance extremely high. I had been hopeful that we could get througli this Congress in the early stages of 1976 a decent national health insurance bill, which I know Ford will veto-but then try , by virtue of that fact, to make it a major issue. That's one of the things I did my best to' convince George McGovern of in '72, and although he promised me more than once, he never did make a speech to that. I'm sure you've seen the Cambridge poll, which shows that 32 per cent of the American peopie were in tavor ot nealth securuy. out 2d per centand this is an amazing figure- said they were in favor of the government taking over all the hospitals and putting all the doctors on the government payroll, which is an extremely radical proposition for this country. And it was the only issue in that same survey for which they were willing to pay increased taxes. We're probably going to get all wrapped up in the business of the federal deficit and the federal budget and the national debt, that "we're going to heil in a handbasket," which I think is so much nonsense. This deficit isn't created by government spending. The growing fiscal conservatism of even those who are labeled as "liberáis" bothers me. It still is a fact that every one per cent of unemployment equals SI 6 billion of lost revenues to the federal government- S 14 billion may be lost in actual taxes, and S2 billion may have to be paid out in food stamps, welfare, and unemployment insurance. I suppose saying that sort of thing makes me "old-fashioned," but to me, it's just simple'arithmetic. When I see a Jerry Brown in California, and a Dukakis in Massachusetts, becoming in effect anti-government and very popular in the process-you know, the last poll on Jerry Brown showed him with an 80 per cent favorable rating, which is absolutely unheard of. But I think that's because the American peopie are in a sour mood- you know, they went through Watergate, they went through Vietnam, and now they're hearing all the things about the secret machinations of their government through the CIA, the FBI. I don't think it's a natural mood for the American peopie. And I'm Jioping we can straighten ourselves out within the Democratie Party, because there is no other possibility on the horizon -certainly not in termsof the next twelve tnonths. SUN: Couldyou go into more detail on wluit you mean by "democratie national economie planning"? WOODCOCK: 1 don't have any blueprints. When we set up the initiative committee, of which I'm a co-chairman, the statement we produced was primarily designed to créate a national debate. It does not set down any blueprints. And I have been, very frankly , astounded at how much attention it has received. We have a wide-ranging list of supporters, including some substantial figures in the business community. At the point you begin to think in terms of blueprints. not everybody who is now on the bandwagon will stay on it. Theie's been strong attacks from the left and the right. which is line. because out of the debate we're gonna have to think in terms of, "Okay, how is this going to work exact - ly?" It has to be centralized in Üie sense of direction; it has to be decentralized in the sense of participation. That's really about as far as I can go. SUN: Wliat kind of Demacráis would support or oppose the kind of platform you 're prpposing? Are you trying to uuify the Party behiñd it' WOODCOCK: No, you know, there are conservative mocrats who would never, never entertain concepts like this. It would be useless even to tiy . It's really a question of trying to crystallize the majority which is really there-buf a good piece of that majority is now mesmerized by the question, "Where is the money coming from?" That's the real obstacle. What we've got to convince them of is that in the process, the money will genérate itself. I think the only way we're going to get a balanced budget in the predictable future is by beginning to substantially reduce unemployment. There is no other way. SUN: To what exlent would the implementation of your program depend on who the Democrats choose as a Presidential candidate? WOODCOCK: Traditionally, of course, the platform is pretty well shaped before the candidate is cliosen. All of their attentions are going to be geared to getting themselves delegates and not worrying. We've got two problems: to get the progressive platform, and to get a commitment from the candidates that they will run on that platform and pledge to implement it. You know, we did this to a-degree in 1960. After we had nominated Kennedy, the Michigan delegation went off the trolley on the question of the Vice -Presidential nomination. I was very shocked, but then I reconciled myself and I personally got a commitment trom Lyndon Johnson that, if elected Vice President, he would help carry out the civil rights platform. I told this to the Michigan delegation. and a lot of them didn't believe me, but history, of course, shows that's one commitment he did keep. continued on page 24 Woodcock continua! front page 7 SUN: Do you kan toward any of the candidates at tliis point? WOODCOCK: No, it's too wide open. Our policy, at tliis time, as a national organization. is that we're notendorsing any individual. But our leadership are free to support anyone they wish as individuals. Some are supporting Bircli Bayh;some on the secondary level are supporting Fred Harris. But it's no indication of what we wilt-do nationally or as the process moves along. SUN: llow wil! the Republican candida te affect your strategy, ij it's Ford, Reagan, or even Rockefeller? WOODCOCK: From a purely partisan point of view, I'm not crying because Reagan is a candidate, because that will tend to keep the primaries more honest in the crossover states. Maybe the Republican crossover wasn't decisive, but it certainly was a considerable factor back in "72. I can't imagine Rockefeller getting the Republican nomination. The riglit has so much control of the party machinery that I just don't see that as any possibility. I don't see much difference between Ford and Reagan. In fact, I used to wonder to myself as 1 was shaving in the morning, "Is not the Reagan candidacy a conspiracy to try and make Ford look more like a centrist?" Because, you know, their actions, their opinions, their philosophies- there's not that much difference. SUN: Do you fee! a progressive candidate today has a much better chance of winning rlian McGovem had in '72? WOODCOCK: 1 remember beingin Flint, on a Friday night just before the May 1972 primary, at a state leadership meeting. Just as the meeting was about to begin, about three or four hundred guys. still in their work clothes, came and stood across the back of the hall. It was in one of the union halls. All witli great big Wallace buttons on, and all good LJAW members. They were there just to see that their cat that they pay isn't gonna denígrate their hero. So 1 made the same speech I had been making everywhere, and when I came to Wallace, I changed it a bit. I said, "Governor Wallace has a reputation for telling it like it is." There was a low growl of approval from the back of the hall, and they also wondered, "What's he up to?" I said, 'Tm well aware that a week ago you had a rally of 10,000 people in Flint, and that at least 9,000 were good dues-paying UAW members. Wallace said in an interview with the Detroit News the day after that, ' am the UAW, not their mis-leaders, who have been selling them down the river all these years.' 'Tm sure the Governor would have to include me in thé"mis-leaders' ". They looked at me. "But I'm confused. A few months ago, when Newsweek asked Wallace, 'If you became President, who will be in your Cabinet?', he said, 'For Secretary of Labor, Leonard Woodcock.' What confuses me is, did he want me for Secretary of Labor because of his regard for my work, orxiid he want an expert at'mis-leading and selling workers down the river?' " Well, everybody laughed, including the Wallace people. And I got very serious. I said, "Let's not get all hung up by what happens next Tuesday. Because if there's one thing everybody in this hall can agree on, it's that we need a new President next January." Everybody cheered that, and that 's how we ended the meeting. I thought George McGovern could tap the same deep vein of discontent that Wallace tapped, and is still tapping. It's not just the racist thing-you're getting the whole business on taxes, too. But McGovern never got through. But, yes, I think the American peöple are in a mucli more open mood of willingness to move forward now than they were four years ago. And that includes a lot of those who voted by not voting. SUN: Many pcoplè on the "New Left" comider the American worker, particularly the white worker, a lost cause politically. Have you found that to be true, and do you think it 's changing? WOODCOCK: There'sa lack of sympathy that goes both ways. So much of the "New Left" is upper-middle class in background, and there's an instinctive feeling on the part of workers generally that "Who are these cats to be telling me what l should be doing and thinking and so on?' I go around the country to our own meetings, talking about these things, getting very enthusiastic responses. You can say, "That's mostly leadership," but it's not entirely. We did an in-depth study of one of our biggest regions, which showed that the international leadership and the local leadership, in political matters, had essentially the same points of view. And a second group, called "activists," who were not in leadership, but were active in the unión, were a little below, but not much. Then the ranks of the membership, which were very pro-leadership in a unión sense, dropped off sharply in a political sense. " So obviously, there is that problem. But in terms of economie matters, if made understandable, I think there would be a substantial response, including the general rank and file. I really believe that. SUN: What do you envision for the U.S. during the next Presidential term if the Republicans win the election? WOODCOCK: I don't want to think about that. 1 really don't. In the second part of our interview, Leonard Woodcock talks about a wide range of social issues, including the current economie recession, the urban crisis, redistribution of income, and the role of major corporations. Finally, he discusses the long-range potential for sweeping economie and political reform within a Swedishstyle "social democracy" in the U.S.