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Marc Rich’s Hidden History as a Union-Buster


Russell Mokhiber

and Robert Weissman

Longtime

fugitive from justice Marc Rich has become the most notorious recipient of a

presidential pardon since Richard Nixon. President Clinton issued a pardon for

the commodities trader in the final hours of his tenure in office.

What

is now widely known about Rich has cast a dark cloud over what Clinton hoped

would be a glorious exit from the presidency. Charged with income tax fraud and

conspiracy, Rich fled to Switzerland, from which he could not be extradited.

Living in the lap of luxury, he continued his wheeling and dealing in

international commodities markets, including through trades with apartheid South

Africa. He invested heavily in seeking a pardon, courting the Israeli government

(dethroned Israel President Ehud Barak personally lobbied Clinton for Rich’s

pardon), hiring top-ranking officials from Democratic and Republican

administrations to represent him, and relying on his ex-wife to lavish money on

Democrats during the Clinton years.

What

is not widely known, at least outside of West Virginia and certain labor

circles, is that Rich played a central role in one of the highest profile

union-busting efforts the United States has seen in recent decades.

In

the early 1990s, Marc Rich was the power-behind-the-scenes at the Ravenswood

Aluminum Corporation (RAC) facility in Ravenswood, West Virginia, site of one of

the most embittered U.S. labor-management disputes of recent decades.

The

Ravenswood conflict has been chronicled by Tom Juravich and Kate Bronfenbrenner

in their inspiring account, Ravenswood: The Steelworkers’ Victory and the

Revival of American Labor (Ithaca, New York: ILR/Cornell University Press,

1999).

In

1990, in a premeditated effort to break the union, RAC locked out its 1,700

workers, members of the United Steelworkers of America, and hired permanent

replacements.

As

the contract deadline neared, RAC installed surveillance cameras, new security

systems and a chainlink fence around the perimeter of the facility. The night of

the lockout, the company brought in a goon squad security force equipped with

riot gear, clubs, tear gas and video cameras used to constantly monitor the

workers’ pickets. The goons introduced a climate of fear and made violence on

the picket lines, and in the town, an ever-present fear.

Caught

unprepared, the Steelworkers’ local was able to keep all but a handful of

workers from crossing the picket line and union solidarity was strong and

militant, but RAC was ready to wait the workers out.

As

the lockout progressed, the Steelworkers’ international union became engaged,

and eventually launched a corporate campaign to complement the local’s efforts.

That corporate campaign took them to Marc Rich.

The

Ravenswood plant, which had been owned by Kaiser Aluminum for four decades,

passed into the ownership of RAC in 1988. The union discovered that, behind a

convoluted corporate ownership smokescreen, stood one man with a controlling

interest in RAC: Marc Rich.

It

is unlikely that Rich initially knew what RAC was up to when the lockout began

– RAC was just a piece in his global corporate puzzle. But about four months

into the conflict, the union had made the Rich connection and was calling on him

to end the lockout.

"From

that point on, Rich was culpable for what went on and the suffering the

Ravenswood workers went through," says Bronfenbrenner.

For

20 long months, the workers lived on minimal strike benefits, six months worth

of unemployment benefits and donated food and supplies. Being out of work for so

long, even from a lockout where union solidarity remains high, takes an

emotional toll to match the financial one. It is no exaggeration when

Bronfenbrenner speaks of the suffering of the workers and their families.

As

the Steelworkers tracked Rich to Switzerland and began applying pressure on his

business operations in Europe, the corporate campaign moved to a new plane and

the union discovered how extensive was Rich’s reach.

Soon

they found themselves negotiating with Leonard Garment, White House Counsel

under Richard Nixon, and William Bradford Reynolds, the number two at the Reagan

Justice Department. Both Garment and Reynolds worked for Rich — who would later

show that he was right to trust in high-priced, politically connected legal help

when Jack Quinn, former Clinton White House Counsel, would do the crucial work

to win Rich his pardon.

As

the Steelworkers’ campaign got closer to Rich’s significant financial interests,

union representatives received numerous death threats.

When

left-leaning Michael Manley was elected president of Jamaica in 1989, the

Steelworkers were hopeful he would follow through on promises to cut his

predecessor’s close ties to Rich — ties which gave Rich access to Jamaica’s

alumina at less than half the market rate. But when Manley faced immediate

pressure from the International Monetary Fund to raise foreign capital, Rich

gave the government a $50 million cash advance. Manley then backed down from

efforts to end the Rich connection.

But

the Steelworkers’ comprehensive international campaign did achieve major

successes, including blocking Rich’s purchase of the Slovakian National Aluminum

Company and a majority stake in a luxury Romanian hotel, convincing Budweiser

and Stroh’s not to buy RAC aluminum, and heaping unwanted publicity on Rich.

Meanwhile, local solidarity remained strong.

This

all cost Rich. In April 1992, Rich finally moved to replace management at RAC

and end the lockout. The final contract terms were not entirely favorable to the

workers, but they had at least succeeded in defeating the company’s vicious

attempt to bust the union.

Asked

about Clinton’s pardon of Rich, Dan Stidham, who was president of the Ravenswood

local during the strike and is now retired, says it is "really

disappointing."

Stidham

modestly says that he’s "pretty upset that Clinton would pardon that guy

after all we went through for 20 months."

In

granting the pardon, Clinton probably did not know of Rich’s odious role in the

Ravenswood lockout. Perhaps, as he claims, he did not know of Rich’s ex-wife’s

support for the Democrats.

But

neither of those facts, if they are facts, makes the pardon smell any better.

If

Clinton didn’t know, he should have. And if he didn’t know, it only highlights

how in an increasingly corrupt political system, money not only can gain you

access to the highest levels of influence and but can enable corporate

lawbreakers to launder their image and reputations.

Ironically,

even though Rich has won the right to return to the United States without facing

trial, the attention surrounding the pardon has permanently stained his

reputation.

That

may be some small solace to the workers at Ravenswood, who will forever know

Rich as a criminal in more ways than one.

 

Russell

Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter.

Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor.

They are co-authors of Corporate Predators: The Hunt for MegaProfits and the

Attack on Democracy (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 1999).

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