… MIKE WESTFALL
Mike (Marshall) Westfall was a blue-collar assembly line worker
General Motors in Flint from 1964 until 1994. Between 1976 and 1991, he became
a labor leader and activist who organized several worker groups whose purpose
was to address the social impact of corporate restructuring. The
Westfall groups produced and printed monthly
newsletters that were sent across the country. The newsletters brought
community attention to the corporate restructuring and proclaimed
that it was
a privilege to do business in America
and that business should be conducted with social responsibility and a respect
for national loyalty, not just the rules of the market place jungle.
These groups proclaimed
that it is the American worker,
our people and our communities that are our most prized national assets. They
also warned that the middle-class wage reduction and job elimination strategies
being conducted by large corporations would ensure that
future generations of young Americans would be denied a
middle-class standard of living.
In 1976, Westfall’s group questioned the vast amounts
evaporating new automation entering the workforce. His subsequent groups
addressed all elements of corporate restructuring including concessions,
foreign sourcing, downsizing, multi-national worker exploitation, corporate
pollution, factory property tax assessment reductions at the expense of
communities, apartheid, and many other related issues. No other group was
equally sounding this alarm. His groups expanded to other industrial cities and states,
ranging in size from a few workers to several hundred. Some of the rallies they
were involved in contained thousands of people.
Westfall served on the boards of various national organizations,
his groups debated CEOs at stockholders’ meetings, he lectured at major universities and his groups conducted significant
conferences, seminars and rallies. They used television, radio and the written media
to explain how this transfer of wealth and disregard for working families would
domino into all industries in the decades to follow, as it has.
Because Westfall’s activist worker
groups dared to speak out
on unbridled corporate, governmental and union authority, as evidenced by the
articles on this site, they were labeled as mavericks. Top union officials
would have been smart to listen closer to the message of these workers given
how absolutely correct they were. Just look at the American manufacturing
workforce today compared to forty years ago. The weakened position that
organized labor finds itself in today and America’s ongoing ailing state of the
economy is largely caused from the issues that the Westfall rank-and-file
activists addressed, and those union officials and politicians ignored.
Westfall had close
and influential colleagues in many
arenas. People such as Ralph Nader were collaborators and universities
including the University of Michigan, Michigan State, MIT, Carnegie Mellon and
others worked with his groups. He served as a consultant on regional and
national TV programs and was an advisor on many books.
He was one of the originators and a
board member of the
Flint, Michigan Work Center, which dealt with middle-income job loss. About
that time, he developed proposals and fought for union contractual changes to
protect middle-class manufacturing wages and jobs.
In the late 1980s, General Motors and the International
UAW enlisted Westfall to develop and write a contractual retirement program to
help soften restructured job loss. His proposal was negotiated in the 1990
automotive agreements and immediately became the blueprint for similar
retirement programs at all domestic automotive as well as many other
industries. This program
saved thousands of younger workers
whose jobs were slotted for extinction due to corporate restructured job
elimination because it allowed older workers to voluntarily retire early.
Westfall was elected
chairman of the controlling union
caucus in power at the cavernous General Motors, Flint Truck and Bus Assembly.
At that time it was the largest truck capacity factory in the world which
employed 7,200 workers.
Westfall was chosen to be one of six people in the United
States to serve on an advisory board for Technivision, Inc. in Alexandria,
Virginia which was a U.S. Department of Education project. The board worked on
the impact of corporate restructured job loss and developed educational films.
He brought film crews to Flint from Washington DC and elsewhere to film
examples of the devastation that manufacturing towns had come to experience due
to corporate restructuring.
In 1987, his group conducted the large historic Flint
rally, where unionists and leaders traveled from all over the country to
celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the UAW. He brought in, as keynote speaker,
his colleague Victor Reuther, a key sit-down strike organizer and UAW founder.
Mr. Reuther was also critical of our government leadership and the then current
UAW officials’ failures in addressing serious worker issues.
The vast collection of
Westfall’s and his various groups’
work is now archived at
some of America’s most prestigious
libraries including large amounts
of video and audio tape of their activities over the years. Multiple
clips of his film footage appeared in the 2007 film Manufacturing Dissent,
which questioned the ethics of Michael Moore. Their work has
also been used in films, documented in best selling books, copied in
educational text and viewed around the world on the Internet.
years, Westfall purposely remained blue-collar.
Although he was offered multiple high level appointed jobs from General Motors,
the UAW and others in Washington DC and elsewhere. He deliberately kept his
worker identity. He retired in 1994
after working for General Motors for 30 years.
For the next 15 years, he became a freelance writer and did writing for multiple
online magazines covering
assorted political, conservative, faith and labor related issues reaching
millions of readers. He did this until 2009
when he began having serious vision issues and then cancer.
Forty years ago, back in the 1970s, American based
multi-national corporations began using new restructuring strategies to garner
larger pieces of the economic pie at the expense of the working class. This led
to an evaporating middle-class, betrayed retirees, confused political leaders,
an artificially manipulated economy, polluted manufacturing towns and a deeply
While there were endless numbers of industries affected,
America’s domestic auto industry, because of its shear size, is a prime example
of the original blueprint for this massive corporate restructuring that lacked
any concern for societal impact.
The domestic auto industry was America’s foremost manufacturing
business. One of every six American jobs was auto related. General Motors was
America’s largest automaker, and Flint, Michigan contained the world’s
largest concentration of GM workers. Flint was
the founding home of both GM and the United Auto Workers (UAW). During this
time, the auto industry offered good wages and benefits. It set
the benchmark for middle-income compensation across our nation. This once fair
distribution of wealth translated into plentiful well paying jobs where working
families, communities, small businesses and our entire nation benefited as
these companies prospered. This all came to an end beginning forty years ago.
During the 1970’s Flint was the home to many large factories
including Buick, AC Spark Plug,Turnsteadt, Fisher Body #1, Grand Blanc and
others that employed tens of thousands of people. Those people are now all
foreign sourced, automated or restructured away and the factories are gone.
During the 1970’s
Flint was populated with over 80,000
auto workers. In 2017 Flint had around 10,000.Those numbers are horrific and
directly relate to the projections the Westfall groups made forty years ago.
.During the 1970’s
America’s Auto workers numbered 1.5
million strong. Today they are dwindling and the number is less than 390,000.