You Don’t Know Jack


and Robert Weissman

The clock is running

out for Jack Welch, CEO of General Electric. It is also winding down for Don

Morrison, a dairy farmer in upstate New York.

For two decades, Welch

has led the one-time appliance company, transforming it into the world’s most

transnationalized conglomerate with a finance subsidiary as its profit center.

The subject of almost unqualified adulation from the media and market analysts,

he may end his tenure with a loud thud.

Scheduled to retire

this year, Welch extended his reign by an additional year to oversee GE’s

gobbling up of Honeywell. European regulators are now raising serious concerns

about the monopolistic effects of the deal, and appear poised to block it.

Welch, who has made his reputation by pushing all cost-cutting and

market-dominating measures to the extreme, may find that, in his final act, the

law and society finally set some limits on him.

Don Morrison knows all

too well the effect of Welch’s hard-driving effort to cut expenses and

externalize costs, and he hopes it is not only the European antitrust regulators

who find the spine to stand up to Welch.

The U.S. Environmental

Protection Agency (EPA) is expected in August to issue a final decision on

whether it will dredge the Hudson River to clean up a GE-created PCB mess on the

river bed — at a cost of $460 million to GE.

Until 1976, a broad

array of U.S. manufacturers used PCBs (polychlorinated

biphenyls) for

insulation in electrical equipment. In 1976, Congress banned their manufacture

and sale, following evidence that PCBs cause cancer and other harmful health

effects. Since the banning, new evidence suggests PCBs also disrupt the

endocrine system and lower intelligence levels of children exposed in the womb.

From the 1940s to 1976,

GE dumped 1.3 million pounds of PCBs into the Hudson River, creating what is now

the nation’s largest Superfund site.

Don Morrison knows all

about it. "Twenty-five years ago," he says, "the state dug sludge out of the

river, and put it on land adjoining mine. I figured if they let them put it in

the river, it can’t be that bad. So it didn’t bother me. É When they asked

permission to push it [against my house], I said sure. My kids played in it,

they grew up in it."

Don Morrison’s wife

died of colon cancer at the age of 49. "We can’t prove it, but we believe that

PCB had a tremendous amount to do with it." Now he lives in fear that his

children will suffer from a similar fate.

Morrison and other

survivors want GE at least to remedy the problem, 25 years after PCBs were

outlawed in the United States.

In December 2000, EPA

announced that it agreed, saying that after 16 years of studies, it had

determined to clean up a 40-mile stretch of the Hudson. Under the Superfund law,

GE would be liable for the costs of cleanup.

GE claims that it

supports cleaning the river, and that it has acted responsibly to reduce its

daily PCB pollution to three ounces. But it says dredging will stir up sediments

and make the problem worse.

EPA retorts that the

ongoing public health and environmental consequences of the PCB pollution are

severe, with PCBs at river bottom continuing to enter the food chain. New

technologies, agency experts say, address concerns about spreading contaminants

by dredging.

But GE isn’t just

making arguments. In fine Jack Welch style, GE has pulled out all the stops to

block the dredging plan. GE’s Hudson River lobbying dream team includes former

Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell and former House Appropriations Committee

Chair Robert Livingston. Among other hardball tactics, the company deployed NBC

President and GE Vice Chair Robert Wright to lobby New York City Council members

against a bill endorsing the dredging project. (Think direct intervention from

the head of a TV network, which owns a major station in New York, might give GE

some leverage?)

GE certainly has lots

of friends in the Bush administration, and in the Congress.

On the other hand, EPA

chief Christine Todd Whitman endorsed the dredging when she was governor of New

Jersey. And the Bush administration is under pressure not to announce any more

environmentally stupid and harmful policy decisions with an obvious tilt to

corporate interests. So the outcome of the final EPA decision remains very much

in doubt.

The GE of Jack Welch

has made its mark by pushing it workers, suppliers and the law to the limit, and

often beyond.

But his strategies,

though lavishly praised by Wall Street, are basically inhuman, as Don Morrison

and many others can testify.

As Jack Welch’s reign

comes to an end, it is time for the society to say the clock has run out on

Welch’s model of comprehensive and global management by stress. The first way to

deliver that message is for EPA to authorize the go-ahead of the Hudson

dredging, without delay.

[For more on the

GE-Hudson River issue, see www.cleanupge.org.]


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).

(c) Russell Mokhiber

and Robert Weissman




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