Marc Rich's Hidden History as a Union-Buster
and Robert Weissman
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
that point on, Rich was culpable for what went on and the suffering the
Ravenswood workers went through," says Bronfenbrenner.
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.
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.
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.
the Steelworkers' campaign got closer to Rich's significant financial interests,
union representatives received numerous death threats.
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.
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.
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.
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
modestly says that he's "pretty upset that Clinton would pardon that guy
after all we went through for 20 months."
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.
neither of those facts, if they are facts, makes the pardon smell any better.
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.
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
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).