Two Americans, one anonymous and one not, have recently initiated two interesting ideas to advance consumer muscle in a corporate-dominated economy.
The first idea is contained in a letter which, aided by ubiquitous copying machines, has been spreading rapidly throughout the country. Whoever the writer may be, she or he has struck a chord with fad-up motorists on gas lines. In the past month, dozens of people have mentioned the letter to me and others have sent us copies. Let the anonymous epistle speak for itself:
“Dear Friend: If you believe there is a real gasoline shortage instead of a shortage created by oil companies, this is not for you, so toss it away.
“However, if you believe this entire situation was contrived by the oil companies to create a false shortage and to drive up the cost of gasoline unnecessarily, this letter should be of some interest to you.
“Perhaps you remember back in 1973 when gasoline was thirty-five cents a gallon and suddenly in order to get to work, you had to sit in a line for thirty minutes in order to buy ten gallons. Because of a shortage? Suddenly the price went to fifty-five cents a gallon and we were virtually swimming in gasoline.
“Now, no one in the world understands the first law of economics better than a major oil company: ‘charge what the traffic will bear.’ They know if they create a large enough ‘shortage’, as long as we have a buck, we’ll pay it for gas.
“How many times have you said to yourself if it wasn’t so useless to fight the Federal Government, General Motors, or Standard Oil, you would love to take them on. But, what’s the use? What can one person do? My friend, I am going to in money or time.
“There is absolutely no way we can take on all the major oil companies, so let’s start with one. Shell Oil Company on July 1, 1979. We think we should start with SHELL for two reasons: it is foreign owned; and it was the first company to ration gasoline to its dealers. We feel SHELL wants to withold gasoline, we think it is our duty to help them.
“So mark your calendars–July 1, 1979–and just don’t buy any more SHELL products until we get their attention. In addition, make five (5) copies of this letter and send it to five friends as soon as you read it. If they in turn do the same thing, within sixty days an awful lot of people will be directly involved.
“And, my friend, there is nothing in the world that will get a major oil company’s attention more quickly that a drop in their excess profits.”
That is the message in the main. It is one that has thousands of people talking in their offices, factories, and stores in Massachusetts, where I first heard of it, to California. The effect on Shell may be slight but it came from only one person with an imaginative communication technique. Imagine what the cumulative effect could be if more citizens imagined in their own right.
The other person is Mimi Cutler, mother, former housewife and now Director of the non-profit Aviation Consumer Action Project (ACAP). ACAP is the only full time consumer group fighting for the safety and economic rights of airline passengers. Since the early seventies, ACAP has scored one victory after another for airborne consumers. Both the Civil Aeronautics Board and the Federal Aviation Administration have felt the challenges and proposals of ACAP.
Like the rest of us, Mimi Cutler has been reading about the nearly five million half-fare airline coupons which United Airlines and American Airlines gave to passengers between May 28 and June 17. These coupons can be used between July 1 and December 15, 1979 to cut the price of air travel within the United States on these two airlines to half of the economy or first class fare.
As one might expect, a hot market has developed for these coupons with classified ads for selling and buying coupons appearing in newspapers. The trading range for coupons is now somewhere between $40 and $90 though a person using a first class ticket from Washington to Seattle could save up to $300 roundtrip.
Ms. Cutler is asking passengers to donate coupons to ACAP in order to advance airline safety. She has launched an “Airline Coupon for Airline Safety” campaign. In return for sending one or more coupons you will receive an acknowledgment of your charitable contribution toward ACAP’s aviation safety and a copy of “Facts and Advice for Airline Passengers.” I’ve supported this consumer group since it began, and I’m sending my coupon to ACAP, P.O. Box 19029, Washington, DC 20036. How about you?