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An Exchange on the State of Organized Labor

by Robert Fitch

and Joe Allen

An Exchange on the State of Organized Labor

“Inside the Roach Motel”

By Robert Fitch

Instead of a review of Solidarity for Sale: How Corruption Destroyed the Labor Movement and Undermined America’s Promise, Joe Allen has expressed what amounts to a howl of anger. Instead of arguments refuting my criticisms of Teamster President Ron Carey’s leadership and Teamsters for a Democratic Union’s politics he’s offered a series of logical fallacies.

Allen’s arguments mostly take this form: bad people with an agenda say “X”; therefore it’s false. Fitch says what they say, so he’s wrong too. But just because the evil ones assert something doesn’t make the opposite true. If Hitler says water runs downhill, that doesn’t mean it runs uphill. Whether someone has answered a question truly or falsely depends on its correspondence with the truth; not who is giving the answer.

So here are seven questions for Joe Allen:

1.As IBT president, did Ron Carey appoint a top Lucchese crime family associate to run the Lucchese controlled “Goodfellas” Local 295 at JFK airport?

2.As Local 804 president, did Ron Carey serve as a character witness for a Lucchese crime family associate?

3.When Ron Carey was president of Local 804, were the union’s funds used in mob-controlled loan sharking operations?

4.In the Federal prosecution of the loan sharking case, did Ron Carey get immunity for his testimony and agree to cooperate with U.S. Attorney Rudolph Giuliani and the FBI?

5. Did the Carey administration replace indicted Gambino crime family associates in Local 282 with their relatives–who were subsequently all indicted?

6. Did Ron Carey’s brother marry into the Colombo crime family?

7. In Ron Carey’s 1996 re-election battle for Teamsters’ presidency, were $885,000 in treasury funds laundered into Carey’s campaign coffers? Ron Carey ­not just Jr. Hoffa or the establishment press — has answered every one of these questions “yes.” Contrary to what Joe Allen would have Counterpunch readers believe, the issue has never been–did these things happen? But whether Ron Carey bears any responsibility for them. And Carey’s consistent answer–echoed by his loyalists — has always been “no way.” He either didn’t know what was going on; or subordinates acted against his wishes.

And because Carey had pledged to carry out Teamster reform, and perhaps more directly because he was supported by TDU — the main force for Teamster reform — many Leftists were inclined to ignore the charges. For years I certainly was.

But as the weight of evidence began to pile up in court records and in Internal Review Board reports ­evidence that Joe Allen shows no sign of having read–it became hard to take Carey’s explanations seriously. More and more he began to resemble the Teamster Mr. Magoo. Like the stumbling cartoon character, Carey would navigate one disaster after another, miraculously passing through, but somehow never truly aware of the calamities he’d caused..

What was really at stake though, was not just the issue of Carey’s personal integrity but Carey’s commitment to genuine reform. Carey was willing to trustee Hoffa supporters in the Midwest. But he appeared reluctant to go after corruption in his eastern base. So here in New York the old question of ‘whose side you were on’ arose in a particularly sharp way. Did you support former TDU members like Leon Olsen and Teddy Katsaros in Local 282 who’d vainly begged Carey to rid their union of its Gambino-controlled rulers? Or did you support Carey?

TDU chose Carey. And it did so, I think, for reasons that go to the heart of the argument in Solidarity for Sale. American unions, I try to show, have rarely gotten beyond a 19th c. boss-client model of craft unionism.

U.S. unions resemble fiefdoms. The ordinary members are like the serfs who pay compulsory dues and come with the territory. The union bosses control jobs–staff jobs or hiring hall jobs — the coin of the political realm. Those who get the jobs–the clients — give back their unconditional loyalty. The politics of loyalty produces systematically, poles of corruption and apathy. The privileged minority who turn the union into their personal business. And the vast majority who ignore the union as none of their business.

For over a century committed radicals like Ken Paff and the founders of TDU have tried to “bore from within” the system, crusading against corruption and advocating power to the rank-and-file. But the local dynamics of the fiefdom system always seem to prove more powerful than the agency of leftists. To move up and gain influence, you wind up playing by boss-client rules. I call it the Roach Motel syndrome: the Leftists go in but they don’t come out.

TDU’s model Local 138 illustrates just how badly rank-and-file reform misfired. Billed as a bottom up rebellion against Colombo crime family control, Local 138 wound a criminal enterprise itself with three of its top TDU-affiliated officials going to jail. At first meeting, the newly elected officers discussed how to take over the Colombo rackets.

Of course Ken Paff and Detroit TDU knew nothing of the New York conspiracy. Yet what finally proved most damaging to the cause of reform was not that crimes were committed or even that the local was destroyed and the jobs shifted to a corrupt local in New Jersey under mob control. But that no-one ever publicly admitted responsibility.

Everyone who knows the genuine activists who made up TDU recognizes that they are men and women of principle and courage. And the human-all-too human reaction is to denounce criticism of them as boss talk. But unless we face up to the limits of our past work, the U.S.labor movement, with its promise of liberation, could soon disappear.

Robert Fitch is the author of Solidarity for Sale: How Corruption Destroyed the Labor Movement and Undermined America’s Promise.

 

Response to Robert Fitch
by Joe Allen

Who’s doing the howling? Bob responds to my review of his Solidarity for Sale by repeating the same accusations he made in his book against former Teamster General President Ron Carey.

Bob argues that some people think that the truth is not the opposite of what bad people say. Someone should remind him that something doesn’t become the truth merely by its repetition.

I can only reiterate that the tired old charges that Carey was an associate of organized crime and engaged in corrupt practices were investigated by the Independent Review Board (which Bob continually refers to as the “Internal Review Board”) and dismissed. The same IRB that has had William Webster, the former director of the FBI and CIA, on it for years and no friend of reform or workers in this country. Or, in the case of where Carey was charged with perjury related to fundraising practices during the 1996 Teamsters, he was found not guilty in federal court.

Not guilty–Bob. Most Teamster Presidents, who end up in federal court, usually end up in federal prison.

As I said in my review, William Serrin, the former New York Times labor reporter, looked for the source of the bulk of these charges a decade ago and traced them back to the Hoffa camp, particularly, Richard Leebove, a former associate of right-wing cult figure Lyndon LaRouche.

Bob argues, “What was really at stake though, was not just the issue of Carey’s personal integrity.” Actually, Carey’s personal integrity was a huge issue, this was recognized Leebove and others, who repeatedly tried to ruin his “Mr. Clean” image in the eyes of the Teamster membership. If his reputation could be ruined, they reasoned, then the whole project of reform could be wrecked.

That’s why from the first day he took office there was there was a “Get Carey” campaign (a real vast right-wing conspiracy) made up of the freight companies, UPS, the Wall St. Journal, right-wing Republicans and the Teamster “old guard” who were committed to stopping reform. The smear campaign (that Bob continues) had its origins in this cesspool of an alliance.

This is not say that Carey didn’t make mistakes, sometimes outright blunders during his time in office. These stemmed, however, not from “corruption” (if one defines corruption as the enrichment of himself, friends, family and associates at the expense of the membership) but from a political strategy of trying to win over the more conservative wings of the officialdom, sometimes called the “olive branch” strategy, which TDU was highly critical of and worked hard against.

It was a strategy that blew up in his face. After Carey came under serious attack, following the 1997 UPS strike, these people jumped ship very quickly and allied themselves with the Hoffa reactionaries. This list included figures who had no business calling themselves “reformers” like Boston’s George Cashman and New York’s Carl Haynes, but self-styled progressives like Chicago’s Gerry Zero.

Bob describes Carey as a “Mr. Magoo” figure, who “never truly aware of the calamities he’d caused.” This isn’t the Ron Carey that I remember. He was a straight talking, down-to-earth person, who had clearly worked for a living, in sharp contrast to most trade union officials. He inspired the audiences he spoke before and his last public speech before the National
Press Club was one of the best speeches give by a union president in fifty years.

The only “calamities” that I’m aware of was for the bosses, particularly, at UPS who believed that they were going to throw a death blow at the Teamsters in 1997 and ended up having the biggest defeat inflicted on them and Corporate America in thirty years.

Here’s two questions for you, Bob. Is the U.S. labor movement stronger or weaker after the government sponsored purge of Carey from the Teamsters? Of course, the answer is weaker. Hasn’t the success of the Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU) in winning the right-to-vote and other democratic reformsóin what was arguably the most dangerous union to be an activist in for many decadesóprovided reformers (in other highly undemocratic and lethargic unions) with an example to follow? I think so.

Bob ends his response by saying, “Unless we face up to the limits of our past work, the U.S. labor movement could soon disappear.” While this is undoubtedly true, what Bob proposes as solutions to the labor movementís decline would damage it even further. Among the proposals put forward by Fitch are: abolish the union shop or make union membership voluntary ; get rid of the exclusive bargaining rights of unions in a workplace; and make union dues voluntary. This may all sound fine in an academic think-tank or a Manhattan cafe, however, in the real, vicious world of “labor-management” relations it’s a recipe for disaster.

But , there is something more sinister here. Many of Bob’s proposals come strait out of the political agenda of the corporate funded, anti-union National Right to Work committee. It don’t think this is an accident. A few years ago, Bob praised the work of UPS political hack and Carey hater Rep. Charles Norwood (R.-GA.) and Rep. Sam Johnson (R.-TX) in tightening the federal regulation of trade unions by expanding the requirements of LMRA. Not a good crowd to be associated with, Bob.

What workers in this country need right now is a little fight back like last December’s Transit workers strike in New York or the recent working class demonstration for immigrants rights in Chicago, which drew over a quarter of a million people. Unfortunately, despite the voluminous length of Bob’s it has very little to contribute to building a stronger labor movement.

Joe Allen is a member of Teamsters Local 705 in Chicago who writes for CounterPunch and the Socialist Worker. He can be reached at: joseph.allen4@worldnet.att.net

 

 

JOE ALLEN is the author of Vietnam: The (Last) War the U.S. Lost.

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