Proxy Debate

I greatly appreciate this opportunity to speak to the Jant Advisory Committee of MIT, which represents all segments of the university community. I am also delighted that we are engaging today in an open public debate. The theme of the Campaign to Make GM Responsible is that the decisions of major private institutions should reflect the views of all their constituents and should be made in a more open manner. It is gratifying to see that MIT. at least, is moving in this direction.

I'd like to just answer at the beginning one charge that the General Motors representatives made and that is that we are harassing them. I suppose the answer lies in the definition of the question. One could say that Martin Luther King harassed Bull Cinnor or Eugene McCarthy harassed I?ndon Johnson. If that is the kind of harassment they have in mind, we're ?oing to continue it.

At the outset I should like to clear up one misconception about Campaign GM. Our campaign is not under the direction of Ralph Nader. Ralph helped plan the campaign in its early stages and speaks in support of us on numerous occasions. But ever since February 7, 1970, when Campaign GM was launched, Ralph has played no role in formulating its decisions, its statements or its strategies.

We are campaigning to Make GM Responsible. Obviously, then, we believe that GM is now behaving irresponsibly. And the record bears us out.

Pollution Control

Let us look first at the question of air pollution. It has been estimated that GM vehicles and plants are responsible for 35 per cent of the nation's air pollution by tonnage. Yet for years, GM refused even to acknowledge that the automobile and air pollution were related. It was only due to the research and legislative efforts of the government, and particularly the state of California, that GM began to combat pollution.

This issue was already raised by GM. You saw the slides and the charts. Everything was California models first and the rest of the nation afterwards. Why is that?

Well, it is true that the problem in California was somewhat worse but certainly there were severe problems throughout the nation, particularly in New York. Why weren't controls applied to New York models until years later? The answer is quite simple. GM wasn't responding to a public need, it was responding to legislation requiring it to act.

No Breakthrough

In addition, none of those devices they put on involved a new scientific breakthrough. It was just a question of a little more money. They were old processes, old devices that could have been put on years before. There was no great change in the state of the auto that allowed them to put these on. It was a question of a little more money and GM wasn't ready to spend it until they were finally forced to.

And it is significant that even today, when GM recognizes the problem and purports to be concerned about it, that General Motors is spending only 15 million a year on anti-pollution research, while it is spending $250 million a year on advertising.

Misleading Accounts

Instead of action, GM provides misleading accounts of what it has accomplished. In its Annual Report, and in the recent full-page ads it took out in the Times, GM states that its

1970 cars, as equipped for California use, reduced hydrocarbon emissions by 80 per cent. But this figure is based on tests made on finely tuned cars which were just off the assembly line.

What General Motors did not say is that the Department of Health, Education and Welfare tests demonstrate that once the 1970 cars have been on the road a while as many as four-fifths of them fail to meet the standards which GM claims to have met. This is an example of GM's commitment to honesty and to pollution control. We have asked the Securities and Exchange Commission to require GM to recall this misleading statement about pollution control efforts. And if SEC does not take action, we intend to appeal to the courts.

GM's record in automobile safety is equally poor. Fifty-five thousand Americans die in automobile accidents each year, more than have died in the entire Vietnam war. GM has done little to prevent this bloodletting. It delayed for years before installing seat belts and collapsible steering wheels. Nor does it appear interested in constructing a truly crash-proof car.

In 1963, a GM safety engineer wrote that it was impossible to protect against injury in collisions at 30 miles per hour. Now, just seven years later, the National Highway Safety Bureau has already tested successfully a prototype vehicle that can withstand impacts at 47 miles per hour, without injury to passengers wearing a normal should-erbelt. I think it is a disgrace and a tragedy that this prototype had to be developed by the Federal Government rather than by the automobile industry.

Another aspect of the auto safety picture is the high cost in property damage of even very minor accidents. I am sure that many of you are acutely and embarrassingly aware of this problem. Some of you probably know without reading the study of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety that a collision at five miles per hour in a Chevy Impala can cost almost $200 to repair. This is because General Motors, and the other auto manufacturers, are more concerned with ornamentation than low repair costs.

Racial Disaster

General Motors' record in the field of racial justice is a disaster. There are 13,000 GM dealers in this country. Seven, only seven, are black. It was not until 1967 that the first black graduated from the 3,000-man class of the General Motors Institute, which trains many of the future executives of the company. And even in blue-collar employment. GM has consistently lagged behind Ford and Chrysler.

For the sake of fairness, I should add that ever since those riots in Detroit. GM has been doing much better in the racial area. But I always thought that we were trying to build a society where progress can be made without the need for riots and killing.

The mass transit issues involves both air pollution and racial justice. The lack of mass transit in this country has clogged our cities with polluting automobiles, has driven white men's roads through black men's homes, and has deprived blacks of access to the new jobs in the suburbs. And GM is a charter member of the powerful highway lobby which has fought for years to prevent federal funding of mass transit programs.

Let's get back to what GM said earlier about going on record for mass transit. They have always been on record for mass transit as long as the money isn't funded.

No Transit Funds

The big controversy in the mass transit area for the last ten years has been what is going to be done with the federal highway trust fund. Millions of dollars have been set aside for national defense highways, and the issue has aways been not whether to devote money to transportation from other parts of the budget-because after all we have other needs in this country equally as pressing-but can't we take some of those highway funds which are already there and use them to build mono-rails, bus lines or some other forms of transportation?

And the answer of General Motors and the automobile manufacturers' association has been no-thou shalt' not touch money from the highway trust fund. Therefore there have been no new funds appropriate for mass transit because most of the people who want more mass transit thought that money should come out of the highway trust fund.

If I had more time, I would talk about automobile warranties, an area which the performance of GM and other manufacturers has been strongly condemned by the Federal Trade Commission. I have a feeling, however, that many of you have sufficient first-hand experience with that problem.

In short, then, GM is a Corporation which has acted irresponsibly in many areas of vital public concern. We at Campaign GM contend that shareholders can and should do something about the record of the company they own. We have proposed two resolutions which we believe would have a significanit impact.

First, we have proposed the addition of three new members to the GM Board of Directors. Our candidates are: Betty Furness, former Consumer Advisor to the President: Channing Phillips, black community leader and Democratic National Committeeman from the District of Columbia; and Dr. Rene Dubos, outstanding biologist and environmentalist at Rocketeller University.

The election of these three candidates would mean that a different point of view would be presented at GM Board meetings. Far more important, these three members would be able to alert the American people whenever GM made decisions which were against the public interest.

Special Interests?

GM strongly opposes our candidates for the Board. It says that they represent "special interests." It is significant that GM now has on its Board directors of oil companies, banks and insurance companies. Apparently oil companies and banks are not "special interests." Only consumers and blacks are.

We recognize that the election of three public interest board members, although significant, is not the be-all and end-all. So we have proposed the establishment of a Committee on Corporate Responsibility to examine not only the GM's performance in the problem areas I have already described, but also the structural changes which may be needed to make GM responsible. What we have in mind is a blue-ribbon committee of outstanding citizens, perhaps like the Riot Commission or a British Royal Commission.

GM opposes this proposal, even though the Commission's recommend dations would be advisory only. The reason is obvious. GM does not want independent and respected experts examining what it has done and what it could be doing for society. It does not wish to have its closed and archaic decision-making processes exposed and challenged.

I recognize that an MIT General Assembly Task Force recommended that MIT abstain on this proposal because it felt that even though the need for a Committee on Corporate Responsibility was manifest, the method of selecting Committee members was inadequate.

Resolution Change

We at Campaign GM had a great deal of trouble determining what the selection process should be. We did not want to leave the matter entirely in GM's hands and we could not think of groups other than the UAW and Campaign GM with sufficient knowledge and interest to participate of the selection process.

I would now like to make two announcements, however, First, I am ready and Campaign GM is ready to provide MIT and other shareholders with a list of the types of persons we would nominate for the Committee on Corporate Responsibility.

Second, we at Campaign GM will gladly relinquish our role in the selection process, if a better process is suggested. The Committee on Corporate Responsibility is too important to be jettisoned simply because of the difficulties in selecting its members.

We believe that every responsible shareholder should support our proposals. In particular we would expect support from MIT. This university, after all, is dedicated to making institutions and technology serve society. And that is precisely what Campaign GM is all about. We are trying to make a significant American institution-the giant corporation-and a significant technology-the technology of the automobile-benefit rather than harm this country.

University Non-Involvement

I have heard some objections to university support for Campaign GM. The first arguments goes like this: Universities are primarily concerned with education and research: they should not get involved in battles in volving their relatively unimportant role as shareholders.

I agree that MIT is primarily concerned with education and research. But it has secondary roles which it must perform responsibly. For example. MIT is an employer-of professors, secretaries, janitors. Surely MIT could not say that since being an employer is not its primary function it is free to discriminate in hiring or pay abnormally low wages. Similarly. MIT is a shareholder, and even though this is a secondary role for the university, the university must behave responsibly. It must vote its share in the public interest.

I have heard another objection to MIT's support for us and I have heard it from leading figures on this campus. "Look" they say, "you have to remember that GM gives a great deal of money to MIT and also that Dr. Killian, who may be personally sympathetic to you, is on the GM Board of Directors and is under a lot of pressure."

Of course. I understand this argument. But I cannot accept it. I would like to point out that MIT also gets a great deal of money from the Federal Government and that many MIT figures have served or hope to serve in the Federal Government. But does this mean that MIt people, collectively or individually, are barred from criticizing the Vietnamese War, or the deployment of ABM or the Administration's Southern Strategy. Of course not.

And if MIT is free to criticize the Federal Government, it must also be free to criticize General Motors, Academic Freedom is indivisible.

In closing. I would like to say only this. In the last decade we have been made painfully aware of the shortcomings in our society-our racism, our excessive feliance on military force, our rape of the environment, Naturally, therefore one of the leading institutions in our society are being challenged and attacked.

Some of the attacks take the most primitive forms-bombing and killing. We are following a different route. We are using reasoned argument and legal process the very methods which our major institutions say they respect. And many Americans will be watching to see how these institutions respond to us.

The time of testing is here. Our challenge to GM is based on irrefutable evidence and is being made in a manner which the dominant institutions in this society purport to endorse. I do not see, therefore, how any responsible institution in this country can, in good conscience, vote against us. Nor, frankly, do I see how any responsible institution in this country can afford to vote against us.