thumbnail of The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour
Hide -
JIM LEHRER: Good evening. In the headlines today, South African President Botha had a meeting with clergymen that was boycotted by Bishop Tutu. Twenty-nine more persons died in the battle of the car bombs in Beirut. And personal income for Americans was up last month. Robin?
ROBERT MacNEIL: After the news summary tonight we have three focus sections. First, with South Africa heading towards what the Reagan administration calls an abyss of violence, three experts examine what realistic solutions are possible to protect the rights of all races. Then, documentary reports on two towns in trouble with the companies that provide their livelihood: Institute, West Virginia, with Union Carbide, and Austin, Minnesota, with Hormel Meatpacking. News Summary
LEHRER: South African President P.W. Botha met today with nine leading church leaders of South Africa, but they said afterward there was little real communication with him. Bishop Tutu, the Nobel Peace Prize winner who is the Anglican bishop of Johannesburg, boycotted the session. Our report is from James Robbins of the BBC.
JAMES ROBBINS, BBC [voice-over]: The church leaders represent all races, but the majority in their congregations are black. They presented President Botha and five members of his cabinet with a strongly worded memorandum saying they feared a further escalation of violence because the high hopes before his speech last Thursday had been dashed. The churchmen asked for the dismantling of apartheid, the release of political leaders in prisons to help devise a new constitution and the lifting of the state of emergency. At a news conference afterwards the leaders said Mr. Botha had repeated he was investigating whether the state of emergency could be lifted in certain areas but he had not given an inch, and there seems to be a credibility gap between the government and most of the people.
Rev. PETER STOREY, Methodist Church: There are two South Africas, and that there are two clocks running in South Africa, the one at past midnight and the other one at some time long before midnight. I think we were trying to represent those for whom midnight has struck and who live in the other South Africa, the South Africa where hopelessness and despair has given way to rage. And to try and say those are the peoples concerns that are most important at this moment; those are the people who need to see hope.
ROBBINS [voice-over]: Bishop Tutu deliberately stayed away from the meeting, saying it could achieve nothing.
Rt. Rev. DESMOND TUTU, Archbishop of Johannesburg: I don't think they would get any change out of him. I mean, his speech, he said, was a manifesto and he wasn't going to change just because church leaders -- of the kind of churches to which these belonged had come to see him.
LEHRER: A State Department spokesman was asked in Washington later for his reaction to Bishop Tutu's refusal to attend the Botha meeting and gave this answer.
CHARLES REDMAN, State Department spokesman: The job of ending apartheid lies essentially in the hands of South Africans. It's urgent that all South Africans sit down, reason together, in order to work out a better future for South Africa. The South African government has a special responsibility in taking steps to bridge the gap of confidence in that torn nation, but a serious resolution of South Africa's problems will not take place until leaders of all communities negotiate their country's future. We call on the South African leaders to do so without delay, and a refusal by any party to meet and negotiate only worsens the prospects for understanding in South Africa.
LEHRER: Besides the Anglican clergymen, Botha also met with an American religious leader, Reverend Jerry Falwell, head of the Moral Majority. Falwell told reporters after his meeting he was convinced of Botha's determination to reform his nation's racial segregation policies and said applying sanctions against South Africa is not the way to go. We will explore the potential solutions to the South Africa situation in our lead focus segment tonight. Robin?
MacNEIL: Once again the city of Beirut has been gripped by an orgy of communal violence. Twenty-nine people were killed today and 68 wounded when two car bombs exploded in mainly Moslem West Beirut. They were widely seen as retaliation for two car bomb explosions last week that killed 67 people and wounded some 250 in Christian East Beirut. Here's a report from Chris Hardy of Visnews.
CHRIS HARDY, Visnews [voice-over]: The attacks had been expected after two car bombs in the mainly Christian East Beirut last week which claimed 67 lives. Under the grim logic of attack and counterattack in Lebanon, the bombers carefully selected their targets near a fashionable restaurant and the Druse party office. But, as usual, it was ordinary people who bore the brunt. The blast tore down balconies and set two apartment blocks ablaze. Firemen battled amid a deafening chorus of screams, blaring car horns and gunfire to pull victims from the blazing buildings. Flames leapt from wrecked cars as militiamen bulldozed them aside to make way for ambulances. A previously unknown group calling itself the Black Brigade said it planted the bombs in reprisal for last week's attack. And, as if to emphasize that they were by Christians against Moslems, the second blast went off 30 minutes later near a Shiite mosque. It was in a narrow, crowded street packed with people on their way to midday prayers.
MacNEIL: Lebanese President Amin Gemayel said the bombings aim to obstruct the Syrian role and lead the country back to a climate of violence and death. Gemayel has been working with Syria to revive Lebanon's paralyzed government and try to end two years of civil war.
LEHRER: There were fresh but still inconclusive reports today on what caused the Japan Air Lines 747 disaster. A JAL technician told reporters a new theory was now under study on what damaged the plane's vertical tail fin. He said investigators were exploring the possibility that external pressure may have done the damage. He did not say what kind of external object could have hit the structure and thus applied such damaging pressure. His statements followed reports that an earlier theory about a failure of cabin pressure inside the aircraft could have been the culprit. The Associated Press said technical experts from the Boeing Company had ruled out such a possibility.
MacNEIL: In economic news today, Americans' personal income rose in July by the same amount as June, 0.4 , the Commerce Department said. The figures followed a week of statistics pointing to weaker economic activity last month in retail sales, industrial production and housing construction.
Meanwhile, Teamsters Union car haulers went back to work today after a three-week strike that left dealers short about 120,000 new cars. However, at least one union leader predicted that a tentative agreement ending the strike would be rejected by the workers.
LEHRER: And finally in the news of this Monday, President Reagan's favorite United States senator said no to another term. Senator Paul Laxalt, Republican of Nevada, announced he would not seek re-election next year. Laxalt is a close personal and political friend of Mr. Reagan. Their friendship dates back to when Mr. Reagan was governor of California and Laxalt was governor of Nevada. South Africa: Possible Solutions?
MacNEIL: We focus first tonight on the growing crisis in South Africa, but with a different purpose -- to look ahead at what realistic solutions might be found to satisfy both the aspirations of the black majority and the interests of the entrenched white minority. After today's meeting, as you heard, with President Botha, one churchman said there are two South Africas and there are two clocks running in South Africa, the one at past midnight and the other at long before midnight. We look now at the different clocks and different views of possible solutions, first, with Patrick O'Meara, director of African studies at Indiana University. An American citizen who was born in South Africa, Professor O'Meara has written extensively on the politics of the region. He joins us tonight from public station WTIU in Bloomington, Indiana.
Mr. O'Meara, is there a political formula that would accommodate all interests in South Africa?
PATRICK O'MEARA: I think it's very difficult to find such a formula, particularly when we look at the response of President Botha. President Botha has come up with an attempt, ultimately, to appease black interests as much as is required to stop the violence. He is not concerned with real, fundamental change. The suggestions he's made, if we look at the code that was -- the implicit notions in his presentation are for widening citizenship, providing additional resources to blacks and, perhaps, taking some cognition of blacks who live in the urban areas. This doesn't get to the core of the problem. I think we also have to understand that President Botha was operating within the constraints, obviously, of his own constituency. And in many ways I think that he faces the great dilemma not only of his right wing but also of the presence, the increasing presence of the military in the townships in South Africa. So to look at future solutions we have to look at the present, and the present, unfortunately, looks very bleak. Indeed, in many ways it reminds me of Zimbabwe when it was Rhodesia, where whites were constantly attempting to find electoral formulas which would do the impossible of protecting white interests and at the same time appeasing black nationalists. And I think this is the great dilemma that we face in South Africa today.
MacNEIL: One difference, of course, with Rhodesia-Zimbabwe is that that was recently a British colony; South Africa is not recently a British colony. The white Rhodesians, if they feared black majority rule, could leave. Where would white South Africans, even if they wanted to leave, go?
Prof. O'MEARA: Well, this issue is brought up very frequently. It seems to be the core issue, that white South Africans have no place to go. Europe is out of their bounds. On the other hand, I nd it very difficult to continue to justify the repressive legislation based on this argument. I think that there are formulas which can be found.
MacNEIL: What are they? Just sketch in briefly what you see as the formulas that might be found.
Prof. O'MEARA: I think above all there has to be some form of full electoral representation for black South Africans. The one man, one vote symbol has become of great importance in South Africa today. It is the core to understanding the reality. In addition, of course, repressive legislation has to be removed. But I think there are ways of, constitutionally, perhaps in some federal form, of protecting some of the interests of whites, but not at the expense of full black participation in the society. And this is where the new constitution that was introduced in South Africa has failed, because ultimately the new constitution seems to provide for some expression of political concern by so-called coloureds and Indians in South Africa, but even there the whites have, in the majority in the white Parliament and through the president's council, maintained a veto. This is not a formula that can work in South Africa, because white interests remain predominant. It is essential to find a mode, then, where black South Africans can fully participate as citizens of that country, but to provide protections for some of the interests of whites.
MacNEIL: Well, we'll come back. Thank you. Jim?
LEHRER: Another view of it now from Donald McHenry, who was the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during the Carter administration. He is now a professor of diplomacy at Georgetown University here in Washington. Mr. Ambassador, do you see a formula that could lead to a long-range solution to this?
DONALD McHENRY: Well, I don't see a formula right now, but that doesn't mean that it's not possible for them to work out a formula. It seems to me that the first thing that needs to be done is to get rid of some of the catchword language which is being used. To talk about one man, one vote in a unitary state is almost a scare tactic within South Africa.
LEHRER: Now, why? Why?
Amb. McHENRY: Well, because they're frightened of the term. It doesn't mean that I'm talking about --
LEHRER: "They" meaning the whites.
Amb. McHENRY: The whites. And it breaks discussion before one even gets a discussion going. The whites will have to get away from using that term; perhaps the blacks will have to do so as well. They will also have to clean up their language with regard to the whole system of separate development. The white government has not yet gotten away from that. Mr. Botha's language the other day was full of the code of apartheid, and it did not indicate in any fundamental way a movement away from it. Sure, there were some steps which were positive, but at the core there was still this whole concept of apartheid or separate development, describe it as you will. Now, having gotten away from those things, it will be necessary for the South Africans, black and white, to sit, to recognize first that they are not writing a constitution or a form of government which is to last forever. It is not the definitive thing. What they want to do is to find that political consensus which provides a basis for government today. Now, that consensus is probably full of compromises. That consensus is more difficult to reach as the situation gets more exacerbated. But if they start now it is still possible; had they started earlier, it would have been even more possible.
LEHRER: Even using the term you said that should not be used, is it still possible for the black leadership to find whatever way in South Africa to negotiate a deal short of one man, one vote and full political participation?
Amb. McHENRY: Well, let's not get caught up on the code words. If you look at the American political system -- and I'm not citing it as a system which can be exported to South Africa, but we have worked out in this system something short of perfect one man, one vote. We have a state of Nevada and a state of New York. In some respects they are very equal; in other respects they aren't at all. They both have two senators, but in the House of Representatives it is totally different. I am suggesting to you that there are kinds of compromises which it is possible to use. Early in our history we defined a citizen -- a slave as three-fifths of a citizen. Now, that wasn't something which lasted forever in the United States, but it was that political consensus which worked at that time. Now, having gotten the consensus which people will agree to today, and it has compromises with it on both sides, then it's necessary to figure out some kind of structure in which change can take place, in which the new consensus can evolve, some kind of method for that change. There are, however, some fundamental things which have to be done at the very outset, and one of them is equality. You just have to get away from this concept of inequality. Now, I think, and I'm not advocating it, but I think that there is no reason why the current realities in South Africa couldn't be a part of this political political consensus. But they've got to sit down, they've got to negotiate, and the negotiation has to be on the basis of a clean slate; not, as Mr. Botha did the other day, prescribing who participates in the negotiations, prescribing the framework in which they take place.
LEHRER: All right, thank you. We'll be back. Robin?
MacNEIL: We turn now to the co-author of the book, Why South Africa Will Survive. He is Peter Duignan, a senior fellow and coordinator of international studies at the Hoover Institution of War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University. He is with us at public station KQED-San Francisco.
Mr. Duignan, what solution do you see?
PETER DUIGNAN: Well, it's hard to see any solution that people will accept. The whites don't have many choices; the blacks have totally refused to accept reformed apartheid. Partition seems out because whites control 87 of the land; emigration is not feasible for the majority of the whites. Only those with high technical skills and professional skills can hope to emigrate. So power-sharing is all that they have left, and they must accept it. But the form in which they accept it is up to them because the blacks don't have much power. The blacks would like a consensus society; Ambassador McHenry doesn't like the word consensus, or one man, one vote, but unfortunately the whites will not, at the present time, go for a one man, one vote or a consensus society. The best we can hope for is consociation; that is, a pragmatic form of acceptance of social and ethical differences, a joint veto for each ethnic community when its rights are involved. Proportional representation is the best blacks can hope for at the present time, in my view, because the whites are still playing around with hoping that some form of reformed apartheid, some hope that the homelands will still offer a solution. And these, we know, will not succeed. The blacks are universally committed to some form of power-sharing, and they -- yes?
MacNEIL: Are white South Africans who support Botha at the moment, are they strong enough to resist one man, one vote indefinitely?
Mr. DUIGNAN: Yes. If you look at the military potential, the police, the commando forces; if you look at the strength of the government in terms of its laws, its informer systems; if you look at the weakness of the black opposition, they're divided. They're divided by class, by ideology, by ethnicity. They don't have arms. Every time a black opposition group has reared its head the police have arrested it, banned it, jailed it or exiled it. So there is -- the army is there but there is a lack of leadership and a lack of arms, so that the whites have the monopoly on power, unfortunately, and black politicians would be better to adopt Lenin's injunction: begin the long march through the institutions; do not attempt to overcome the whites by terrorism or guerrilla warfare or liberation warfare. The arms and the equipment aren't there; the blacks [sic] have too much power. It would just lead to bloodshed.
MacNEIL: So do you, to that extent, agree with Ambassador McHenry that the thing the blacks should or could go for now would be some kind of interim political consensus, not a final constitution for all time?
Mr. DUIGNAN: Exactly. Be pragmatic; take what they give you. The future is on their side.
MacNEIL: Thank you. Jim?
LEHRER: Mr. O'Meara, do you agree, first of all, that a liberation war would be lost by the blacks and would not attain what they want?
Prof. O'MEARA: I think that the quality of life in South Africa is going to change fundamentally if indeed the pace of liberation increases. I don't fully agree that the blacks are without bargaining chips in this whole process. There's a great deal now of spontaneous violence that is emerging in South Africa. This will presumably increase. In addition, the African National Congress, which is the liberation movement operating outside of South Africa's borders, has indicated that it proposes to move towards soft targets; for example, civilian targets or towards shopping malls. And I think that a fundamental change can occur in the quality of life in South Africa. The risks that people take to do everyday chores, the risks that they take to go to movie theatres.
LEHRER: You mean the power of fear, is what you mean, right?
Prof. O'MEARA: The power of fear can transform that society, and I think that certainly Professor Duignan is correct when he says that the blacks do not have a charismatic, focal leader who is free and operating. Nelson Mandela fits that role. But for the moment there is no pivotal figure guiding the struggle for libe,ration in South Africa. But, on the other hand, there is a great deal of potential for the kinds of changes that can be brought about by violent actions in the society.
LEHRER: What's your view of that, Mr. Ambassador?
Amb. McHENRY: Well, I'm not sure that I would say that the blacks are without power or that violence doesn't play a role. Clearly, they are with power and clearly, as we know in this society, there is a limit to what governments which have power can do in its exercise. You can have a great deal of power and not be able to exercise it. Moreover, I don't think --
LEHRER: Explain what you mean in the South African context.
Amb. McHENRY: Well, the government is all-powerful. The government has great military power. But that doesn't stop, and has not stopped, the young people in the streets from forcing that government to declare an emergency, from forcing its economy into a tailspin, and I think you're just seeing the beginning of that, making South Africa ungovernable. I don't think, however, we're talking about the Africans, as Professor Duignan said, taking what they can get. The blacks do have bargaining power, and it's going to be necessary for the whites to recognize that it is a give and take. It is the effort to find a political consensus. They are not dictating any longer. They have tremendous -- they, the whites, have tremendous power, but they are going to have to negotiate if there is to be peace in that country.
LEHRER: You don't see it that way, right, Mr. Duignan?
Mr. DUIGNAN: No, I agree with much of what the ambassador said. The recent amount of rioting has certainly frightened the South African government. It's one of the few times they've had to use the army in the 20th century to control cities, and certainly the economy has been in a tailspin. But the question is, can these random acts of violence and intimidation and destruction in the townships affect the real modes of production and where the power is in the white cities? Thus far, very few white people, white neighborhoods have been bothered. But --
Amb. McHENRY: I would beg to differ with you. It's not as random as it may have been in the past. We're going to see, probably, at the end of this week, a strike by the mineworkers union; we have the rand having dropped from 52 down to 38 to a dollar. We have the government in a period of economic recession, and, more than we have seen before, we have the black leadership spread across the board as opposed to the former way in which there was a single leader who could be picked off. It seems to me that the blacks are increasingly powerful and more sophisticated in the exercise of it.
Mr. DUIGNAN: Well, I think we disagree here, perhaps. The same thing was predicted in 1976, that the Communist Party of South Africa, in a brilliant report and analysis of the failure of the '76 Soweto riots, made these points. The rural countryside did not rise, nor did all the cities nor all the townships. There was no plan, no coordination; it was more spontaneous, and local problems caused the trouble and concern in the rioting or the political demonstration, whatever you wish to call it. The same thing is happening now. In any case, without a plan, without a cadre, they've arrested all the labor leaders, they've arrested most of the legal opposition black movement in South Africa, they've arrested churchmen. They're arresting young people in large numbers so that, without leaders, without a coherent plan, without coordination of this plan, so that the whole countryside and the whole country goes up, without arms, without plastic bombs, they can do very little. They haven't touched the white sectors. The point is, the ability of the whites to suffer these acts of terrorism or these bombings is going to be very strong, as we know from, say, the Israeli citizens putting up with terrorism, or the enormous devastation in Northern Ireland which has forced almost no concession out of the ruling Protestant group in Northern Ireland. So people, when they feel politically threatened, will bear a lot of economic problems, and they'll bear a lot of discomfort at home. I'm sure some of the English speakers will leave, but the South Afrikaner, the farmer, the city worker, will stay on.
LEHRER: Mr. O'Meara, let me ask you. Do you agree that partition or dividing the country up into a white South Africa and a black South Africa is also not a viable solution, as some have suggested?
Prof. O'MEARA: I don't think it has worked with the homeland policy. The homeland policy has not worked simply because, in a sense, black South Africans participated in the development, growth and building of what is potentially a very rich and strong country. To begin to break up the country is to ignore the very central role that blacks have played since the late 1800s in this whole process. I think that is part of the reason why we have not had any success with the homeland policy.
LEHRER: Well, let me ask the ambassador on this. Do you also agree -- we just have a few minutes -- that partitioning the country is not a solution?
Amb. McHENRY: I don't think that partition is going to work. The groups are too integrated geographically and economically for partition to work. They are -- whether they like it or not, they are going to have to live together, and they'd better get on with trying to find a political consensus.
LEHRER: All right, Mr. Ambassador, Mr. Duignan and Mr. O'Meara, thank you all three very much. Robin?
MacNEIL: Still to come on the NewsHour tonight, documentary reports from two towns with different anxieties about the businesses they depend on: Institute, West Virginia, with Union Carbide, and Austin, Minnesota, with Hormel Meatpackers. This is pledge week on PBS, and we're taking a short break now so that your public television station can ask for your support. Your pledges help keep programs like the MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour on the air. We'll be back shortly.
[pledge week break]
House Divided: Union Carbide in Institute
LEHRER: Next we look at that story that never ends, the one about Union Carbide and toxic leaks in West Virginia. It was just over a week ago that 135 people were hurt by a leak from the Union Carbide plant at Institute, West Virginia. Although most of those people are home from the hospital, the story about them and their surroundings goes on. Our focus report is by Nell McCormack of public station WPBY, Huntington, West Virginia.
BEAU MICHAEL MOORE, disc jockey [on the air]: All right, good afternoon from FM-105. It's 3:49 now, 11 minutes in front of four o'clock from the powerhouse of West Virginia. This is Beau Michael Moore from FM-105 and "Moore in the Morning"; this is "The Leak".
[singing] "This is a little tale or, if you wish, a peak at what's going on here now and to talk about the leak."
NELL McCORMACK [voice-over]: Charleston disc jockey Beau Michael Moore wrote and recorded this song after the tragedy in Bhopal, but listeners complained it was in bad taste and he took it off the air. Now, after last Sunday's gas leak in West Virginia, "The Leak" is back as the station's most-requested song.
Mr. MOORE [singing]: " -- the Union Carbide leak.fiThere's always the possibilityfithat the whistle might sound.fiWill I hear it? Will I get away? Will I be around?"
Well, it was originally, after the Bhopal, India, incident it occurred to me that in West Virginia, being in Chemical Valley, which as it's sometimes called here in the Charleston area, there are not a lot of people that was taking it seriously. And it seems to be a generic human trait that we think this -- it happened there, but, you know, it can't happen here. And in fact, I believe it could.
McCORMACK: With two plants and about 7,000 workers, Union Carbide is the Kanawha Valley's largest employer. Its Institute plant is the only one in the nation still producing methyl isocyanate, or MIC. That's the chemical that killed over 2,000 people in Bhopal, India. Last Sunday's gas leak did not contain MIC, but it did send 135 people to the hospital and focused national attention on this chemical valley. The incident has sharply divided the community into those who fear for their safety and those who fear for their jobs.
BETTY RAY, Union Carbide supporter: I was out driving Sunday, and I live maybe 10 minutes from the Institute plant, and I was not affected whatsoever.
McCORMACK [voice-over]: Betty Ray does not work for Union Carbide, nor does anyone in her family, but her support for the company runs deep.
Ms. RAY: Carbide is synonymous with Kanawha Valley, and I've lived here all of my life. It's become an institution here. And I feel that they have contributed not only jobs to this valley but the philanthropy that they have given to the Kanawha Valley in, say, scholarships and camps for children and this type of thing. They've done many, many things for West Virginia, for the Kanawha Valley as a whole, and we are behind them 100 .
McCORMACK [voice-over]: To demonstrate that support and to counteract a week's worth of negative publicity about the accident, Ms. Ray hastily organized a pro-Carbide parade through South Charleston's business district. Four hundred Carbide boosters showed up Saturday morning under threatening clouds to voice their main concern, preserving jobs.
[interviewing] Why would it be hell without Carbide?
1st PICKETER: I can't go to work. No money.
2nd PICKETER: You probably wouldn't have a job.
3rd PICKETER: It put three kids through college.
4th PICKETER: We love it. It's our first mother.
5th PICKETER: We've lived here 40 years, and he worked at Carbide 31. And look at him. They ain't nothin' wrong with him.
McCORMACK: He's still alive, huh?
6th PICKETER: Yeah. I'm alive. I'm retired, enjoying it.
5th PICKETER: He's in good health, too.
McCORMACK: Are you confident that the people working there today are as safe as you were when you were working there?
6th PICKETER: Even safer. They're safer.
McCORMACK: Mayor Robb, how do you feel about this parade?
RICHIE ROBB, Mayor, South Charleston, West Virginia: Well, I'm very much in support of it. I think Mrs. Ray's done a great job putting it together. Since we support Union Carbide, if they don't want the chemical plants, we'll take them.
SPEAKER [at anti-Carbide rally]: And I hope that Mayor Robb is listening as he thinks about his PCB plant that will bring great payroll and great money into the city of South Charleston. I'd direct to Mr. Robb, if he can't find a spot right in the city of South Charleston, put it on his front lawn!
McCORMACK [voice-over]: But it was an angry crowd of Valley residents who gathered yesterday, the day after the parade, to vent their frustrations and fears about safety to Carbide executives.
2nd SPEAKER: I'd like to know what the income level is of people in Danbury, Connecticut, that if you executives lived here in the Kanawha Valley you might do something far differently than what you're doing now.
3rd SPEAKER: I don't trust you all anymore. There's no way you'll ever get me to trust you again, and I don't feel the way other people do, well, give you stronger regulations. I want you out! You've given us enough problems. Just get out. I said this to the Union Carbide person and his response to me was, "Ma'am, do you want to be responsible for all those people out of work?" My suggestion is, take those people with you if they want to stay with you. Just go away.
McCORMACK [voice-over]: But jobs are crucial in the state with the highest unemployment rate in the nation, so not all community activists want the chemical industry to leave the Kanawha Valley. Clark and Cheryl Sheldon travel throughout the valley enlisting residents in their campaign to make community health a corporate priority. Ironically, while driving through Institute last Sunday, Cheryl became a victim of the very chemicals she's fighting.
CHERYL SHELDON, environmentalist: I all of a sudden got this whiff of this disgusting odor. It was like a burnt smell. And I realized at that point that there was a leak or something. I got here and I stayed here for about an hour up in the bathroom just vomiting violently, and then I kept vomiting all day up until the next morning, and that's when Clark told me, you know, I better go to the hospital.
McCORMACK [voice-over]: Mrs. Sheldon is two months pregnant, and she believes her illness last week was not routine morning sickness. News that the escaped gas is suspected of causing cancer and birth defects alarms here.
Ms. SHELDON: If Union Carbide wants to use that chemical, wonderful. They should test properly so in case there is a leak, like there was, they would know exactly what to do. I mean, I feel like I'm being used as a guinea pig. And I don't want to find out seven months from now when I have a child that might have a deformity in some way or damage that it was from a chemical that wasn't properly tested.
CLARK SHELDON, environmentalist: Every year some 11,000 tons of chemicals are pumped into the air. Methyl isocyanate, the culprit in Bhopal, is pumped into the air in Kanawha Valley at 11.74 pounds per hour. And who knows what happens when all of the chemicals get together in the air above the valley. The effects of the mingling of these chemicals is what, I guess, I most fear.
McCORMACK [voice-over]: But many Carbide supporters view the chemical risks differently.
1st CARBIDE SUPPORTER: I work for construction. I'm a carpenter working in the very unit where this accident happened Sunday. I'm not the least bit worried about it. I work in there every day, and I'm not scared of it. I'll go in there tomorrow or Monday, whenever we go back. They preach safety at us. We live safety. And things can happen, but it doesn't worry me.
2nd CARBIDE SUPPORTER: My husband works for Carbide, it's Seven Unit. He was in the spill last weekend. I wasn't worried about him then and I'm not worried about him now. His father, his father before him and his stepfather's father worked for Carbide. By golly, there's not a better employer in the valley and never will be.
McCORMACK [voice-over]: The Carbide accident has wrenched apart the neighborhoods around the capital city of Charleston, and caught in the middle are state elected officials who must weigh the urgent need for jobs against the public's right to safety. Mario Palumbo represents Kanawha County in the state senate.
MARIO PALUMBO, State Senator: We all want jobs, and the question is, can you produce these chemicals here in a safe manner? And I think the public is going to demand that it be done and that Carbide as a matter of corporate policy is going to make certain it's done because they can't afford the legal liability they're creating for themselves by spewing out these chemicals from time to time. So as a matter of corporate policy, if they're going to survive, they're going to have to stop this behavior.
ROBERT KENNEDY, Union Carbide: I am seriously and deeply and personally concerned about --
McCORMACK [voice-over]: Robert Kennedy, Union Carbide's number-two man, told Kanawha residents yesterday his company will survive, and he promised them a change.
Mr. KENNEDY: Some of you want us simply to shut down. I will tell you, and it won't be a popular statement, that I don't think that's the right alternative.
Mr. SHELDON: How much money are you willing to invest in the next year to upgrade the Institute plant and put in the very best available technology on the market today? Any dollar figures we can hear from you today?
Mr. KENNEDY: We are going to spend as much money as we can reasonably spend --
Mr. SHELDON: Estimate how much.
Mr. KENNEDY: -- and intelligently spend. You can't throw money at problems. You know that. You can make the money available, but it comes down to how the people do their jobs and how well you can train them and how well you can focus their attentions on it. Can we do better? You bet we can do better, and we're going to do a lot better.
LEHRER: And there's an update. Later last night, 10 people were injured and another 50 were forced from their homes when a tanker truck spilled toxic chemicals on Interstate 64 just two miles from the Union Carbide plant in Institute, West Virginia. The spill closed a 12-mile stretch of highway for three hours. Robin?
MacNEIL: We shift our focus now from West Virginia to Austin, Minnesota, another town in trouble. Austin is the site of a long and bitter battle between local meatpackers and the George A. Hormel company. The climax came this weekend when workers struck the plant. What happens now could well determine the future of the town itself. Carol Levinson of public station KTCA, Minneapolis-St. Paul, has our report.
MEATPACKERS [August 16th]: Seven, six, five, four, three, two, one. YAY!!!
CAROL LEVINSON [voice-over]: It was official at midnight last Friday night. These meatpacking workers went on strike against their employer, the George A. Hormel Company of Austin, Minnesota. The strike comes after a 10-month struggle over wages and benefits that could threaten the health of the company, the solidarity of the union and the very existence of the town. For many years, Austin's been the kind of town people move to to raise their children, a town filled with friendly neighbors and civic pride, and also a town dominated by one industry, since 1891 when George A. Hormel converted part of an old creamery into a meatpacking plant. In the last year, following an industry-wide pattern of cutbacks in meatpacking, Hormel cut the wages and benefits of its Austin workers by 23 , from $10.69 an hour to $8.25, which many still consider an industry average. Faced with the eroding power of organized labor across the country and seeking alternatives to just striking, Hormel union local P9 went looking for outside help. They found Ray Rogers.
RAY ROGERS, labor consultant: What have you got?
Mr. ROGERS: Right! That's what we're talking about here today is power. How you can get it and how you can use it.
LEVINSON [voice-over]: As a New York labor consultant, Rogers developed what he calls the corporate campaign, a program that puts pressure not only on the offending company but on the banks and other institutions that support it as well. Now that the Hormel situation has come to a strike, Rogers says he feels pressure of his own.
Mr. ROGERS: I do feel like it's a gun to my head and I feel that all these workers and this community has a gun to their head and the leaflet that we've got out now shows a P9 worker with two guns to his head. Hormel's holding one and First Bank system is holding the other.
LEVINSON [voice-over]: Many citizens of Austin, even those who aren't directly connected with Hormel, also feel pressure from the labor dispute, especially business people like Jan Mickelsen.
JAN MICKELSEN, florist: I'm really nervous. It's hard to sleep at night, it really is. I said it just is such a crushing feeling because our hands are tied. There's nothing we can do, either way, to help the situation. We're just caught in the middle.
STRIKERS: We don't need cornbread greed.
LEVINSON [voice-over]: Despite the fears of the local business community, union members say they had no choice this weekend but to strike.
1st PACKER: I think it was necessary. The company forced us to do this. For the past 19 years this company has asked for concessions continuously on every contract. They've broke the contracts, and if they want to continue to break contracts, then they're going to find out that unions across this country are going to rally around us, and we're going to fight this thing until we get what we've got coming back.
2nd PACKER: For the past nine years they've been sticking it to us, stripping us of all of our pride and dignity. They keep coming back asking for concessions. It's just to the point where it's unbearable to work for them anymore. They want to dictate instead of negotiate.
LEVINSON [voice-over]: But the company says they have been willing to negotiate. Hormel Vice President Charles Nyberg thinks the strike may have been avoided if the union put as much effort into collective bargaining as they did into the corporate campaign.
CHARLES NYBERG, Hormel Vice President: We've been trying for well over a year to get the representatives of Local P9 to the bargaining table to discuss wages and benefits, to discuss what kind of a contract we might have in Austin. Instead, they hired a New York consultant whose expertise is harassment and intimidation and threats and decided that they would mount that kind of a campaign against us instead of sitting down and trying to reach agreement through collective bargaining.
LEVINSON [voice-over]: While both the company and the union stick to their positions, the town of Austin is torn between the two sides of the dispute. Mark Anderson is a reporter for the Austin Daily Herald and has been covering the Hormel story for the past year. He says most people here are so worried about the effect this will have on their town that they can no longer even take sides.
MARK ANDERSON, Austin Daily Herald: How can you take a side any longer? You're just hoping for the best. Nobody wants to see a union get hurt; nobody wants to see a union decimated. Everybody's got strings psychologically or economically tied to Hormel, one way or the another. And so they're all somewhat confused, concerned, hoping for the best. And hoping it won't hurt them.
LEVINSON [voice-over]: Marvin Peters is the owner of Jake's Supper Club.
MARVIN PETERS, restaurant owner: Everybody I know in business is definitely down considerably from what they were last year. Nothing you can do about it. Just hang on and wait.
LEVINSON [voice-over]: Many Austin citizens aren't just worried about the strike hurting them; they're worried that Hormel may retaliate by deciding to leave town. But at union headquarters they have more immediate concerns.
Mr. ROGERS: Floyd Lennick has seen to it that everyone can register for unemployment.
LEVINSON [voice-over]: The union plans to continue on its course, and Ray Rogers says they're not worried about the company leaving town.
Mr. ROGERS: I don't believe that they're going to close down a corporate office and move out any more than I believe they're going to close down this new $100-million plant and move out. I think that's a threat that they hit the workers every time negotiations come up, whether it's a new plant or it's an old plant. They come up with the same threats to scare the workers that, "If you don't give in to our unjust demands, then we're going to blow you and your community right down the drain. We have a gun at your heads. if you don't give in to these demands, then things are going to just be all the worse."
Mr. NYBERG: We have made no threats to leave Austin or to leave Minnesota. We have a study underway with respect to the corporate office and whether it ought to be located here. But that study is completely independent of the question of a labor dispute with Local P9. And if a move of the corporate office were to take place, it would have to take place based upon all kinds of good premises other than a labor dispute. But to keep the strike in perspective and to not inflame things, we've made a decision in the near term that we are going to close the plant down. Certainly the very minimum would be two weeks, and it's more likely that it would be four weeks, six weeks, eight weeks or longer that it will be down. But at some point in time if the strike continues, then we think that that plant should operate. And we would intend to do that.
LEVINSON: With replacement workers?
Mr. NYBERG: With replacement workers only as a very last resort.
LEVINSON [voice-over]: So the 10-month-old struggle between Hormel and its workers has entered a new phase. For Hormel, a warm and friendly business climate is gradually being replaced by steel fences and barbed wire. For Austin, 52 years of economic and emotional security is being replaced by fear.
MacNEIL: No new negotiations are scheduled between Hormel and the striking meatpackers. The company has offered to return to the bargaining table as early as tomorrow, but only if the workers significantly alter their demands. Jim?
LEHRER: Again, the major stories of this Monday. A group of clergymen met with South Africa President Botha and said the meeting was fruitless. Bishop Tutu boycotted the session. And 29 more persons died in the battle of the car bombs in Beirut; two exploded today in a Moslem area in apparent retaliation for one Sunday in a Christian district that killed 55 persons. Good night, Robin.
MacNEIL: Good night, Jim. That's our NewsHour tonight. We will be back tomorrow night. I'm Robert MacNeil; good night.
The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour
Producing Organization
NewsHour Productions
Contributing Organization
NewsHour Productions (Washington, District of Columbia)
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, or if you have concerns about this record, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/507-gt5fb4x96v).
Episode Description
This episode's headline: News Summary; South Africa: Possible Solutions?; House Divided: Union Carbide in Institute. The guests include In Bloomington, Indiana: PATRICK O'MEARA, Indiana University; In Washington: Amb. DONALD McHENRY, Georgetown University; In San Francisco: PETER DUIGNAN, Hoover Institution. Byline: In New York: ROBERT MacNEIL, Executive Editor; In Washington: JIM LEHRER, Associate Editor
Asset type
Social Issues
Global Affairs
Politics and Government
Copyright NewsHour Productions, LLC. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License (
Media type
Moving Image
Embed Code
Copy and paste this HTML to include AAPB content on your blog or webpage.
Producing Organization: NewsHour Productions
AAPB Contributor Holdings
NewsHour Productions
Identifier: NH-0500 (NH Show Code)
Format: 1 inch videotape
Generation: Master
Duration: 01:00:00;00
NewsHour Productions
Identifier: NH-19850819 (NH Air Date)
Format: U-matic
Generation: Preservation
Duration: 01:00:00;00
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
Chicago: “The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour,” 1985-08-19, NewsHour Productions, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed November 28, 2023,
MLA: “The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour.” 1985-08-19. NewsHour Productions, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. November 28, 2023. <>.
APA: The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour. Boston, MA: NewsHour Productions, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from