Ron Carey was the most important trade union leader to emerge in the last decade of the 20th century in the United States.
His 1991 election as the first reform leader of the Teamsters was bombshell that hit the labor movement and Corporate America.
What made his victory even more stunning was the role played by the Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU), the longstanding reform group made up of rank and file Teamsters.
Corrupt and complacent trade union officers were put on notice their members wanted a different direction for their unions. While the bosses use to big concessions, when not out-rightly engaging in union-busting, had to face a newly revived Teamsters union.
The highpoint of the Carey administration and the reform struggle in the Teamsters was 1997 strike against package delivery behemoth United Parcel Service.
It was the biggest labor victory in a generation. At that time, labor historian Nelson Lichtenstein wrote that the strike ended “the PATCO syndrome. A 16-year period in which a strike was synonymous with defeat and demoralization.”
But, for writer Bob Fitch all this was all a “glittering mirage.”
Fitch in his new book Solidarity for Sale: How Corruption Destroyed the Labor Movement and Undermined America’s Promise-a book ostensibly about union corruption-rehashes the worst smears and lies about Ron Carey traditionally coming from the mobbed-up, old guard of the Teamsters.
Carey, for Fitch, was just another corrupt Teamster officer in the mold of his predecessors, a man who secretly controlled millions of dollars in UPS stock and an ally of the New York-based organized crime families.
Fitch also dismisses the idea that Carey banished from the union for leading the UPS strike as “paranoid,” “self-serving,” “politically naïve.” “A left-wing conspiracy theory” because the fruits of the UPS strike were “over-hyped.”
While there many things wrong with Fitch’s book, which surveys several unions, I’m going to focus on those parts that apply to the Teamsters, a subject which I know best.
The first thing to say about Fitch’s book is that the charges made in it against Ron Carey are as old as the hills and have been investigated and dismissed in many cases long ago.
In February1996, retired New York Times labor reporter William Serrin, then chair of the journalism department at New York University, wrote an article called Hacks and Hatchet Jobs, which addressed many of these issues and traced them back to their source.
Serrin’s article was particularly timely because it appeared in the early stages of a bruising reelection campaign which pitted the incumbent reformer Carey against the well-financed and mobbed-up challenger James P. Hoffa, jr., referred to derisively by reform activists as “Junior Hoffa.”
Among the more fantastical smears spread far-and-wide (rehashed by Fitch) was that Carey was an agent of the New York-based Luchese crime family and that he personally controlled million of dollars of UPS stock through his father.
The mainstream media spread with little thought or investigation published these smears about Carey, this included such venerable institutions as Time magazine, the New York Times, the Associated Press and National Public Radio.
Serrin showed quite convincingly that these false stories emanated from the Hoffa campaign consultants, particularly, from Richard Leebove and George Geller, former associates of right-wing cult figure Lyndon Larouche .
They were joined in the effort by Michael J. Moroney, a former Department of Labor lawyer, who was fired from his job as an appointed assistant trustee of a Teamster local in New York.
Leebove had a particularly nasty history, being employed off-and-on for a decade by mobbed-up Teamster officials, like Jackie Presser, to attack and red-bait reformers in the union.
I couldn’t help but wonder if the “Mike Moroney” whom Fitch credits in the acknowledgments section of his book is the aforementioned “Michael J. Moroney?”
After all that said and done these charges against Carey were thoroughly investigated and dismissed by the Department of Labor and the Independent Review Board (the disciplinary body created by the settlement of the Justice Department’s RICO suite against the Teamsters) and, in Serrin’s words, they received “little attention” from the press.
Carey defeated Hoffa in that year’s election and went on to lead the 1997 strike against UPS, which among other things won the creation of over 10,000 new full-time jobs. Is that just “hype?” I don’t think so. I should know I got one of those new full-time jobs.
However, soon after the strike Carey was banned from the union, by the same IRB exonerated him a few years earlier, in early 1998 based upon a series of charges, also emanating from the Hoffa camp, pertaining to illegal campaign fundraising methods during the hard fought 1996 election.
Is it “paranoid” to the think that Carey was banished from the union because he led a national strike UPS by the government? Absolutely not. The Republican controlled congress led by right-wing nut Rep. Pete Hoekstra orchestrated a witch-hunt against Carey that put enormous pressure on the IRB and the Justice Department to void the 1996 election and “neutralize” Carey-which they did.
Hoffa rode this witch-hunt to power in a “special election” in 1998 against reformer Tom Leedham, a former member of the Carey slate and Teamster warehouse director. Hoffa couldn’t win an election on his won, he needed the help of the federal government.
Three years later in 2001, Carey was indicted by the Justice Department on the very same charges that lead to his banning from the union by the IRB and was acquitted of all charges that year soon after the 9-11 terrorist attacks.
Another veteran labor reporter and chronicler of Carey’s 1991 election triumph, Newsday’s Ken Crowe, described the verdict as a “vindication” of Ron Carey.
All of this, however, is not good enough for Bob Fitch, for some reason only known to himself.
So what’s Fitch after? It appears to be TDU.
After spending a full chapter rehashing lies and distortions about Carey, Fitch then engages in child-like attacks on the leading activists of TDU and writes-off the many accomplishments of TDU as “vastly exaggerated.”
Maybe for Bob Fitch, but it has long been recognized by both supporters and opponents of TDU that if it wasn’t for their long struggle it is unlikely that members of the Teamsters union would have never have won many of the democratic rights that are unique to the Teamsters. Most union members in the United States don’t have the right to vote for the top officers of their union and many important unions don’t even have the right to vote on contracts.
Is all this ancient history? I think not. 2006 is an election year in the Teamsters and the highly unpopular and unprincipled Hoffa could easily use Fitch’s book to smear the reform movement that is trying to oust him from power.
Fitch’s book is not just bad reporting and history, it is irresponsible, for someone who claims that they want a better labor movement in the United States.