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Labor Unions and the Gray Institute By Neal Morgan Beaumont THE GOLDEN TRIANGLE, an area roughly encompassed by Beaumont, Port Arthur and Or ange, has smelled of petro-chemicals as long as mosts of us can remember. Once a visitor criticized the smell and got a quick answer from Port Arthur’s mayor. “Smells like money,” the mayor snapped. It still smells. But the odor of money has begun to fade, particularly for the middle class. It has faded in direct proportion to the demise of organized labor in the Triangle. With it went the sweet smell of jobs, new homes, and all those things economic that made the pungent odor of Golden Triangle air more tolerable. Perhaps the beginning of the end came on January 8, 1980, with a nationwide strike of the Oil, Chemical, and Atomic comitant decline in oil prices. Almost half of the nation’s then 60,000 petrochemical workers were employed along the Gulf Coast in Texas and Louisiana. During the strike, 17 large trucks called “caterers” were accused of hauling strike-breakers into Port Arthur’s Texaco plant. According to one OCAW eyewitness, three buses loaded with mostly blacks, Hispanics and women transferred passengers into the caterer trailers “just herding them in,” the OCAW observer said to the Beaumont Enterprise; “there were policemen all around.” Lines then were clearly drawn. Golden Triangle union members a large group in the region knew that it was in their best interest for the unions to prevail. Leaders of business, industry and local chambers of commerce were equally certain that the region’s biggest problem was generally organized labor and more specifically “labor violence.” The local business establishment invested heavily in a campaign to discredit labor, bemoaning union members’ “non-productivity and attitudes,” and of course, labor violence. Local TV stations were saturated with slick commer Neal Morgan is a freelance writer living in Beaumont. 10 AUGUST 28, 1987 cials demanding that we change our way of thinking. A General Patton lookalike, complete with helmet, pearlhandled pistols and a swagger stick rode a moving tank across area TV screens and ordered us all to “kick some attitude.” The union-busting campaign, along with the decline in the oil economy, had its effect on labor, as more than 12,000 jobs were lost in the Triangle. The story of organized labor in retreat can be followed through the news and editorial headlines of the Beaumont Enterprise: UNIONS MUST RETHINK ROLE IN ECONOMY. . . . TEXACO DANGLING ‘CARROT’ IN FRONT OF JOB STARVED GOLDEN TRIANGLE. . . . CHAMBERS TEAM UP TO PUSH OPEN JOB MARKET. . . . BRICKLAYERS SIGN WAGE-CUT ACCORD. BROWN & ROOT NIXES UNION CRAFSTMEN AT FINA. . . It was and remains a bad time for the Golden Triangle. And it was just about the time that things turned especially sour that the John Gray Institute was founded. Described as a privately funded public policy group, the Institute promised a new approach to businesslabor conflict resolution, economic development and perhaps, deliverance. Dignitaries at the Gray Institute dedication in 1981 included Governor Bill Clements; Senator John Tower; Congressman Jack Brooks; Senator Lloyd Bentsen; Dr. Jerry McAfee, president of Gulf Oil; Harry Hubbard, president of the Texas AFL-CIO; Elvis Mason, CEO of First International Bancshares, Inc. and Vice President George Bush. The organizing board was easily as impressive and included five former governors: Dolph Briscoe, Allan Shivers, John Connally, Preston Smith, and Price Daniel. \(Mark White was added to the John Gray Foundation in July of Time, Inc., and Elvis Mason rounded out the group. It wasn’t hard to recognize the only two liberals in those groups: Jack Brooks and Harry Hubbard. GEORGE BUSH, at the dedication ceremony, said, ” . . . This Institute is an investment for hundreds of thousands of young people who have yet to enter the field of higher education, or yet to enter the job market.” Harry Hubbard, president of the Texas AFL-CIO, concurred and said labor and management had entered the “cooperative era.” U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen commended the Institute on its vital “principles of productivity.” Many were convinced the Institute would deliver the area from the economic desert in which it found itself. And the John Gray Institute’s goals were ambitious. According to its brochures, “A Training and Productivity Team would focus on effective management and human resources. A LaborManagement Team would work to reduce conflict and build cooperation. An Economic Development Analysis Team would provide accurate, comprehensive information necessary for economic development and planning. And, eventually, the Small Business Assistance Center would provide the education and lay the foundation for small business development.” The Institute would focus its efforts on the Gulf Coast Crescent between New Orleans and Corpus Christi, the greatest concentration of petro-chemical industires in the nation. Sixty-six business, labor and “other” organizations and individuals provided start-up funds; almost $14 million, to be paid in annual installments. Half came from major petro-chemical industries and all funds came from companies with Gulf Coast interests. Some $7 million was used for construction of the Institute’s three buildings on the Lamar University campus and all funds were channeled through the John E. Gray Foundation. Money given to the foundation, a Texas non-profit corporation, is tax-deductible. Lamar University, through authorization of the Texas Coordinating Board of Colleges and Universities, foots the bill for maintenance and overhead. With corporate investments fully deductible, and buildings maintained with public money, the Gray Institute is another of those curious blends of