William P. Winpisinger has always been know as Wimpy, but he comes on more like Popeye.
The president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers has emerged as a leader, perhaps the leader of the Dump Carter movement which took fire after the recent Americans for Democratic Action meeting here.
Machinists and members of some other liberal unions have been organizing draft-Kennedy committees all over the country Winpisinger said recently.
Yesterday, a nationwide direct-mail fundraising drive to draft Kennedy was announced and the letter which will be sent to some 50,000 people is signed by Winpisinger.
"All I did was breathe it, and it raced like wildfire across the country. The problem with this country is not the people. It's the leadership. If I didn't respond the way I did on Carter my people would have the same contempt for me that they have for him."
At 54, Winpisinger may not be a young man, but he is certainly an angry one. Fixing you with a steady stare, he pours it on, punctuating his articulate statements with a constant gunfire of swearwords.
What we have here, in brief, is that American original, the self-made man, the guy who pulled himself up from the crowd with nothing but his good strong arms and his fox-quick mind, a hang-in-there fighter who learned all the tricks growing up on the streets in Cleveland at an age when some of this future peers were taking boxing lessons at Andover.
A driving man, William Winpisinger, and like all driving men, driven. His wife had to raise the five kids: He was darting around the country visiting locals and came home maybe one weekend a month ["You don't get anything done sitting here in this seat," he growled].
His office is huge, the office of a man who has made it, but not grand. It is cozily crammed with souvenirs from Japan Russia and Detroit, toys model, paintings, signs that he is a world citizen now, a sophisticated traveler, knowledge and sure. But even behind his silver stickpin he remains first and always a man who loves to work with machines, a champion of the silent many.
"We've become a nation of sycophants cowering before the knees of government who let those with leverage on the government do anything they want. I get a bellyful of that so fast -- I'm a moral man, for chrissake, and -- I'm as normally fearful of some things as anybody else.
"But I didn't cower before anybody when I grew up and I haven't cowered thus far in may adult life, and this is no time to start. If ever we needed some leadership in this country, somebody with a bit of courage to call some shots, we need it now.
"i get just driven loony, speechless with anger, that leadership can flipflop and vacillate all over the place when the public will is clearly expressed by any normal yardstick. The leverages of the vested interests get more for them through the vacillation of leadership that's in hock to 'em. Jimmy Carter is in hock to the establishment business community, the corporate state as I call it, and here we are."
The same thing is happening on SALT II, he fears, with top officials beginning to back off it despite national polls showing 69 percent of the people favoring it, "and no one in his right mind is gonna deny that Salt II is an inching, faltering step closer to peace -- too small, too faltering in my opinion. Yet Carter keeps giving away more and more to the right wingers who are the minority. It's the antithesis of representative government, and it brings into question the wisdom of having a body that is not run by one-man-vote power, too,"
He would have said the same 25 years ago, he added, though maybe not so loud.
The rage at leadership froths over into labor itself. He would like to see George Meany disppear, too.
"My basic quarrel with the old man is, if he were a bright-eyed liberal I wouldn't give a s--- if he was 95, I'd be for him. But Meany continues at 85 to come down with the same degree of dogmatic heavy-handedness as he did at 45. And meanwhile the country is 40 years down the road.
"People at a certain age seem to develop a stake in the status quo, and retrench in their beliefs, and if you can't upgrade your mind or will or vitality to address the new issues and positions, then you owe it to yourself to get the hell out.
"That's my only quarrel with Meany: He doesn't get the hell out".
Though Winpisinger has made it clear that he prefers Edward Kennedy, "If we can't get Kennedy, then I'm ABC-Anybody But Carter. I said a year ago I was through with him, and there's no shape, manner or form in which we'll support this man never again."
As a last resort he would stay neutral "Not neutral in favor of the enemy, which I think Meany was, but neutral."
Where does it come from, all this fury? He's not sure. His father was a printer in his native Cleveland, a quiet man, a Democrat who liked to call himself an independant. The future labor leader dropped out of high school a month after Pearl Harbor to work in a local machine too factory and by August he had enlisted in the Navy.
He served in the Mediterranean, North Africa, English ["I made Normandy and all that s--"] and was on his way to the Pacific when the war ended. A diesel mechanic, gifted with all kinds of mechines, he returned to Cleveland and at age 26 started fulltime with IAM. Laboriously, he worked up through the ranks.
"My anger is a culmination of years and years and years of trying to operate within the established order, to eke out the gains I think people uught to be entitled to, and of watching the political system be increasingly co-opted by the vested interests, watching the response you get from the kind of politicans who assess the public will and say, f-- the public, and do what they want, make more campaign bucks and cement the ownership of our political institutions in the hands of those that already have everything and sit astride the apex of the economic pyramid."
He seemed to have said that before. He didn't even have to take a breath in the middle.
"I have never called myself a socialist," he said, "but people keep asking me if I am, and I don't deny it. If a guy who believes America can never fulfil its promise to its people without somewhere coming to grips with public ownership of its essential resources and/or services, or production that's absolutely essential to the welfare of our people, then I'm a socialist and I think everybody should be."
Should Kennedy win, Winpisinger wants no part of a political future. He plans to retire soon anyway, after three decades of living out of suitcases rarely getting to see his wife and five children.
A washingtonian since 1955, he is now building an addition to the house; it's his hobby. Next week he plans to swim a bit and get in some golf at his place in Ocean City.
"No, I don't want to run an old folks' home," he muttered, referring to the though of a political future. "I like it here in the union with all these young turks, young tough guys coming up, full of energy and vistality. .."
Is the country ready for a whole union full of William P. Winpisingers? CAPTION: Picture, William P. Winpisinger, by Harry Naltchayan, The Washington Post