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By Mike Westfall

March 1, 2009

Citizen Moore, Michael Moore’s most recent biography by author Roger Rapoport, includes a chapter titled, “Who Is Mike Westfall and Why Is He Saying these Terrible Things about Me?”,M1

It is fascinating that Mr. Moore, who has a notorious reputation for being the dreaded and hefty bushwhacker, should feel so threatened by me, a Flint blue-collar auto retiree, that I warrant an entire chapter in his life’s history? Remember that when Mr. Moore talks about me he is not talking about UAW or GM officials, he is talking about blue-collar assembly line worker activists. A lot of people worked very hard in the various Flint activist groups that I chaired during the 1970’s and 1980’s. They worked selflessly without recognition or desire for personal gain. Since Mr. Moore feels so compelled to confound the facts by downplaying the work of these groups, I feel obliged to address his confusion.

First, the true Flint story is the American story of how Flint blue-collar autoworkers stood up to an international automotive bully. It was not the Michael Moore story. Mr. Moore, the self-proclaimed blue-collar spokesman was an embarrassment to us. In Flint, where we produced Chevrolets and Buicks, and our jobs were being exported, he proudly tooled around in his Honda built in a Japanese auto plant. He just didn’t get it. I actually only dealt with Mr. Moore because of our mutual friend, attorney and record producer Jim Musselman. Jim Musselman, had a decisive quote in the book stating Mr. Moore, “ was mocking the citizens of Flint who were fighting back.”

During those years, America’s vital middle class manufacturing jobs, which had always been the engine of our nation and the envy of the free world, was beginning to be methodically eliminated. American based multi-nationals began their systematic shuttering of the factories, which housed the hundreds of thousands of decent paying jobs that our children, communities and nation needed going forward. Today, we clearly see the reason for our concerns during those years.

American workers in all industries have given their accumulated experience, knowledge and skills to expand the standard of living for our nation. They have worked tirelessly to improve the quality of the products they produced while consistently improving their efficiency and have been rewarded with pay cuts, sliced benefits and evaporating jobs. The years of our activist work were pivotal. These were years of record profits and record executive bonuses as the CEO’s whistled merrily all the way to their banks. This was the beginning of the shifting of our manufacturing jobs to exploited third world workers paid starvation wages, who were then used as examples of how American workers were over paid to reduce all workers to the lowest common denominator. In Flint, we weren’t looking for fame, fortune or movie star status like Mr. Moore. We were too busy sounding a thunderous alarm nationwide against a long list of the employment eroding tactics including foreign sourcing, downsizing and automation.

Unlike us, Mr. Moore was not working a full time job in the hot, dangerous, cancer ridden shops while doing our activist work of organizing, leading the huge labor rallies, demonstrations and conferences nights, weekends, holidays and vacations to bring an awareness to the horrific problem. We did this for years. Mr. Moore just didn’t do it.

The book discusses how Mr. Moore deliberately ignored our important Brinks truck demonstration at the GM stockholders meeting. Why wouldn’t he ignore it? If Mr. Moore were to portray himself as the lone rebel taking on GM, it wouldn’t look good if the truth of whom the genuine blue-collar activists doing the real demonstrations got out.

Mr. Moore got in to the stockholders meeting as my guest, at Jim Musselman’s request. At this rally, Jim Musselman and I, not Mr. Moore, did the TV interviews. The rally demonstrators were Flint activists from my committee, and they also debated GM’s Roger Smith from the stockholders floor, along with Jim Musselman, Mr. Moore and myself. These demonstrators were not Mr. Moore’s demonstrators, because Mr. Moore had no people; he was an organization of one person, himself. A few months later the world would forever falsely believe that Mr. Moore was the lone real-deal activist.

Mr. Moore’s suggestion that he sensed that I was concerned with him targeting the UAW is doubletalk. We were not out to destroy the company we worked for or the union that represented us because they were both important and necessary. That said, we were the premier and loudest critics in the nation of the leadership of both the companies’ lack of social responsibility relative to their devastating restructuring and the direction of UAW officials, who seemed to be caught like deer in their headlights.

I certainly do give Roger Rapoport, particular credit for having the courage and honesty to touch on our activist work and especially for mentioning a few quotes from others who assisted us in Flint. At the risk of sounding self-congratulatory in the Michael Moore style and to clearly state that everyone in our various groups fought this fight, I will give just a glimpse of some of the informative quotes in the book. The quotes were made by important people from around the nation who knew what was going on in Flint, sincerely cared about our work and who assisted us on various issues during those years. If they hadn’t understood, they would not have made their statements and explained themselves so thoughtfully.

When they talked about one of us, they were talking about us all. One such quote came from Oscar-nominated, award-winning Manhattan film producer Nina Rosenblum. She spoke in part of consumer advocate Ralph Nader’s comments about the Flint movie that I had proposed and would appear in where all of the profits would have gone back to help Flint. She said, “As Ralph Nader was saying you are one of the truly greats of our time” … “You will be the greatest on camera because all you have to be is yourself, and your true genius and profound humanism comes through without any effort.” An interesting quote came from Jim Musselman who boldly said that Moore’s deletion in his film, Roger & Me, of the important people in the Flint story, “ felt like trying to tell the story of the American Revolution without mentioning the Boston Tea Party. Ignoring the heroism of grassroots organizer Mike Westfall was unthinkable. For decades courageous men like him had stood up in the tradition of UAW founder Walter Reuther who was bashed in by Henry Ford’s goons at the historic 1936 Battle of the Overpass outside Dearborn’s Rouge Plant.” The book went on, “Moore had also dumped footage of Westfall’s fiery Patrick Henry style speech to the coalition courageously fighting General Motors for emergency tax relief.”

We sincerely appreciated and gave thanks for the assistance we got from the many who joined us on various issues. They played an important part in helping those of us who were on the firing line as we addressed the big picture.

Unquestionably, Mr. Moore has attained notoriety by producing repetitious sniper films that bluntly makes fun of important issues while affording him the luxury of becoming a matinee idol at the expense of others. Just for a moment, let us consider the opposite side of the table and truthfully put the shoe on the other foot. Other then sensationalism at any price, does he truly have the sterling credentials necessary to make him an authority and expert on the issues he flogs and claims as his exclusive domain, ranging from the American financial bailout now going on, to politics to health care to the auto industry? In the issues he wraps his films around, does he represent unbiased views, or does he rather piggyback on well-publicized issues and then use people who he can maneuver, twist and bend to push his political slant as he enriches himself by generating a few more million bucks? Is he laughing at his audience like he accused Roger Smith of laughing at GM workers?

If so, what kind of honest and responsible societal contribution is that?

Is he more akin to a P.T. Barnum, the promoter of circus hoaxes of 150 years ago, or is he the truth speaking, genius intellect, maker of factual documentaries that his bewildered supporters believe he is? What did Mr. Moore really base the foundation of his career on? Wasn’t it Flint? In Flint, was he only a talking head, observer and opportunist who made a very cheap movie and fooled the world thereafter? Is his Flint persona really built on Flint quick sand?

At the beginning of the chapter relative to me there is a quote from Mr. Moore, “ Give a lie a 24-hour head start, and the truth will never catch up with it. In other words, always confront dishonesty immediately and without equivocation”. Who can disagree with Mr. Moore’s quote?

He built his reputation on, and for twenty years since has pretended to the world, that first, GM’s Roger Smith wouldn’t talk to him, and secondly, he was the lone Flint Don Quixote of the Flint common worker. It was a hoax. It made him rich, influential and respected by some, but it was a colossal charade.

Mr. Moore’s statements in the book said my efforts were “dry and boring”. When Mr. Moore says such things about our work it is because he simply was never one of us and never understood the auto industries’ problems. His answer to our blue-collar job loss, our community destruction and our nation’s loss of decent middle-income employment opportunities was to make a comedy film about himself and Roger Smith. His “dry and boring” statement was self servicing and false.

We, the workers, were doing the things that he didn’t have the ability to do. One of my committee’s events was in 1987 when we sponsored the Flint 50th Anniversary of the UAW rally.

I brought in legendary UAW organizer and founding father Victor Reuther as the keynote speaker, and I chaired this huge historical daylong event. Mr. Reuther had been blinded in one eye by an assassination attempt. His brother, celebrated UAW President Walter Reuther, had been shot in the back by another would be assassin. Workers were bused in to Flint from all over the nation. Like our other cutting edge events, this rally did not meet the definition of Mr. Moore’s “dull and boring”. Just what exciting events did Mr. Moore ever lead in Flint that was not staged?

Another preposterous book comment from Mr. Moore was, “Only when talk show host Phil Donahue came to Flint in late January 1990 for a Moore interview, did Westfall finally emerge as the working class muse who allegedly inspired the project”.

The truth is that Jim Musselman’s comments clearly spelled out who inspired any project from the time Roger & Me was first released some twenty years ago. Mr. Moore’s statement, that I emerged as the working class muse just for the Phil Donahue show, is to ridicule all of the work the blue-collar activists did. It is unequivocally false.

After conducting the 1987 Flint 50th Anniversary rally, General Motors and the UAW both requested that I work for the next two years developing and writing one of the most important retirement concepts ever written, which I did. It was negotiated and officially put in the national contract in 1990.

It allowed older workers to voluntarily retire early on a decreased pension so younger workers, who desperately needed the jobs to support their young families, could remain working. For years now this retirement concept has saved thousands of younger workers’ jobs.

I also wrote significant COLA provisions to help our struggling elderly retirees and wrote a pilot national health insurance program in those two years. What was Mr. Moore doing?

I was offered many good jobs over those years like head of education at Flint GM Truck& Bus, a writing job at Solidarity House in Detroit, a job in Washington working for Ralph Nader, when they thought I was going to be fired again for my activities, and other job offers as well. I accepted none of them, remained blue-collar and remained true to our cause. I not only worked on these issues until I retired in 1991, but have also written on them since as evidenced by this very paper.

At our labor functions, for the most part, if Mr. Moore was there at all, he could only be found in the audience. On film he wore his baseball cap and blue-collar worker’s garb and told America that it was his fight, but in the real world he wasn’t one of us. His Elmer-Fudd promotion of himself as the lone blue-collar Flint spokesman is pathetic. Mr. Moore may have had pipe dreams of being a two fisted blue-collar rebel fighting the real fight, he may have occasionally meandered around our blue-collar coat tails and we may have let him do a couple of minor things, but he was really only a perplexed white-collar journalist with identity issues.

Because of our work and because of the times, Flint was primed for any self-serving opportunist to come in and use the workers’ genius, hard work, popularity and, most importantly, issues to garner national support to promote and portray themselves as something they weren’t, and then use this new Flint guise as a springboard to move on to a much greener and affluent pasture. Our work, on the other hand, was dead serious. We needed thinkers who would put the cause above themselves, not adolescent self-promotional jokesters whose passion for predictable and corny comedic one-liner slapstick blocked the way for them to understand the important bigger picture.

Our thousands of pages of written material and audiotapes from those years are now documented and archived in the prestigious University of Michigan-Flint Frances Willson Thompson Library under “The Westfall Collection”.

Likewise our extensive documented worker activist videos, films and film clips from those years that tell the true Flint story are now archived at the prestigious Walter Reuther Library at Wayne State University under “The Marshall Westfall Collection”. These collections chronicle the work of our various groups.

Activist leaders and workers in our various groups, such as our Vice Chairman Dave Lustig and leaders like Bernie Lothian, Wayne Gillette, Tom Gilbert and dozens of others, can be found in these archives. They cared enough about their country, their jobs, their way of life and America’s dwindling manufacturing base to play an active role in the true Flint story.

In conclusion, the true Flint story is of the gut-wrenching corporate restructuring of America’s premier industries that has translated into grinding standard of living reductions, permanently lost employment opportunities, terrible repercussions to our tax base, resulting in shortages at schools and public services, and the harm it has done and is still doing to our nation’s middle class.

The true Flint story is of the extensive body of work that chronicles hundreds of common Flint blue-collar activists in the 1970’s and 1980’s who were using every means at our disposal to tell the truth. It was not about one lone person seeking to promote and enrich himself.

When we began sounding the alarm thirty years ago it was a ticking time bomb. Today that time bomb is exploding from border to border.