Citizen Moore, a biography of film-maker and gadfly Michael Moore penned by Roger Rapoport, includes a chapter entitled, "Who is Mike Westfall and Why is he saying these terrible things about me?" While Flint Michigan-native Moore has acquired a measure of success in doing cookie-cutter films, which has given him the luxury of becoming a matinee idol by ridiculing people and making fun of important issues, just what is the real story on him? What did Moore base his career on? Does he have any genuine credentials and, if so, what are they? Has he really been on the side of the common man?
What are his credentials to make him an expert on every issue from politics to health care to the financial bailout now going on? In Flint, was he really not much more then just a talking head, observer and opportunist who made a cheap movie and fooled the world? Did Moore actually build the foundation of his dubious career on Flint, Michigan, quicksand?
From the start with his hoax movie Roger & Me, where he pretended that General Motors’ CEO Roger Smith wouldn’t communicate with him, he spent the next twenty years asserting to the world that he was Flint’s lone Don Quixote and the unequivocal champion of the common worker. In Roger & Me, he miscast himself because he was not the one leading the Flint fight.
Until now, Moore’s biographers have left out a core component in the Flint story, which was the authentic blue collar Flint activists’ work. They were the real Flint rebels taking on Roger Smith on corporate restructuring and fighting for their communities and jobs.
I give Citizen Moore author, Roger Rapoport, special credit for having the courage to mention in his book our Flint activist work. He even mentioned a few quotes 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. 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.”
Another decisive quote Rapoport printed relative to the true Flint story came from Michael Moore’s best friend at the time social activist, music producer and attorney Jim Musselman. Musselman boldly said that Moore’s deletion 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.” Musselman said Moore, “was mocking the citizens of Flint who were fighting back.” That doesn’t sound like the Flint fighter Moore portrayed in Roger & Me.
We, the common blue-collar workers not Moore, were the ones working full-time jobs in hot, dangerous, cancer-ridden shops while doing the activist work of organizing, leading the huge labor rallies, demonstrations and conferences nights, weekends, holidays and vacations. We did this for years. Moore just didn’t do it.
It seems that today everyone wants to beat up on America’s workers, but all of America’s workers in every industry have given their accumulated experience, knowledge and skills to their work. This has expanded the standard of living for all of America. In the auto industry, as in many others, our committed workers have worked tirelessly to improve the quality of the products they produced and consistently improved their efficiency. They have been rewarded with job loss, pay cuts and sliced protective work rules. The wage and benefit cut domino effect has since been used as unfair examples to create cuts to all American workers from border to border. Unlike Moore, we weren’t looking for fame, fortune or movie star status because we were too busy sounding the alarm of impending catastrophic job loss and genuinely fighting for our middle class jobs, families, communities and way of life.
The years between 1976-1990 were pivotal in our activist work. There were record profits and record executive bonuses as executives whistled merrily all the way to their banks at the expense of America’s disposable workers. We saw the beginning of the mass transfer of decent paying middle class manufacturing jobs to exploited third world workers paid, shamefully low wages, and we were sounding a loud alarm in Flint. These foreign workers were used as unfair competitive examples of how our workers were over paid and under worked in an effort to reduce us all down to the lowest common denominator. We, the activists, spoke out nationally from Flint against the corporate restructuring strategies of foreign sourcing, downsizing, automation, wage and benefit cuts and a whole host of employment eroding strategies that were evaporating our jobs.
We knew that if we didn’t get active our middle class, which had always been the engine of our nation and the envy of the free world, would be methodically sacrificed and eliminated as disposable workers on the alter of corporate restructuring. The manufacturing plants, that these American based multi-nationals were systematically shuttering from border to border, housed the hundreds of thousands of good paying jobs that our children, communities and nation needed going forward into our “new millennium”.
Moore’s pretending that the documented facts and filmed proof of the honest activists work that chronicle those years did not exist and, therefore, did not matter and had no relevance is profoundly and entirely invalid. He has always been wrong. Moore may have dreamed of being a two fisted blue-collar rebel fighting the real fight, he may have occasionally meandered around our labor 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 an identity issue at a very small and inconsequential ramshackle office in Davison, Michigan.
At the time, because of our work in the media, community and union halls, Flint was primed for any self-serving opportunist to come in and use the workers’ genius, hard work, ideas and popularity to garner national support to promote and portray themselves as something they weren’t, and then use this new Flint celebrity guise as a springboard to move on to much greener pastures.
At our labor functions, for the most part, if 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. He wasn’t even blue-collar. Our work was dead serious. We needed selfless people who would put the cause above themselves, not self-promotional jokesters whose passion for predictable and banal comedic one-liner slapstick blocked the way for them to see the big picture. I realize that Moore has downplayed our work ever since he placed himself out front as Flint’s Don Quixote.
That said, our work is now archived in libraries including the Frances Willson Thompson Library, Westfall Collection, at the University of Michigan-Flint. Likewise, our extensive documented worker activist videos from those years that tell the true Flint story are now archived at the prestigious Walter Reuther Library as part of the “Marshall Westfall Collection”.
This body of work chronicles the workers who were not in it to promote and enrich themselves. They didn’t give a hoot about becoming a movie celebrity, but genuinely did care enough about their country, their jobs, their way of life, our middle-class and America’s dwindling manufacturing base to put the cause above themselves, sound an alarm, sincerely work hard and selflessly to solve the problems and to tell the truth.
Mike Westfall is a former United Auto Workers official and activist of Flint, Michigan: the birthplace of General Motors.
Info: Citizen Moore