Date: Fri, 9 Jan 98 09:00:40 CST
From: rich%pencil@YaleVM.CIS.Yale.Edu (Rich Winkel)
Subject: U.S. Government Hands Off Teamsters
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** Topic: U.S. Government Hands Off Teamsters **
** Written 12:01 PM Jan 8, 1998 by labornet in cdp:headlines **
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/* ---------- "The Organizer articles (Hands Off T" ---------- */
U.S. Government Hands off Teamsters
By Scott Cooper, in The Organizer
5 January 1998
The U.S. government has opened a full-scale assault on organized labor,
beginning with the Teamsters union and now headed for the AFL-CIO.
On Nov. 17, a court-appointed monitor, retired judge Kenneth Conboy,
disqualified Teamsters President Ron Carey from a rerun election that had
been ordered after the government uncovered a fundraising scheme involving
the Democratic Party and Citizens Action, a lobbying group. The
disqualification left James P. Hoffa on the ballot. Carey had won reelection
over Hoffa Jr. last year by a slim margin of victory.
This decision strips the Teamster rank-and-file of their right to choose the
union candidates of their choice. If allowed to stand, moreover, Conboy's
decision would pave the way for the so-called Independent Review Board -- a
government board that sits over the Teamsters union -- to strip Carey of his
union membership. It would also serve as a precedent for the government to
intervene directly in to the finances and internal affairs of the AFL-CIO
This latest assault is a direct response to the victorious Teamsters strike
against United Parcel Service -- a strike led by Ron Carey and actively
supported by the AFL-CIO leadership. No doubt the AFL-CIO's role in helping
defeat fast-track trading authority is also a factor pushing the government
to embark upon this witchhunt of the labor movement.
The Teamsters' situation
The New York Times (Nov. 18) underscored the impact of the government
decision to rule Carey off the ballot: "Conboy's decision sent shock waves
through the union movement because Carey, a former United Parcel Service
driver from New York City, has long been considered one of labor's leading
crusaders against corruption. He was first elected to lead the Teamsters in
1991 on a platform of rooting out mob influence, and as president, he has
repeatedly slashed lavish perks and ousted officials close to the Mafia."
Shock waves, indeed! That is the very point of these attacks on the union
movement. The government hopes to deal a deadly blow to the independence of
unions, and send a clear message to leaders that they had better get back on
board with "business unionism as usual" -- or else face being put under
direct government control.
"Conboy also found that several other labor leaders, including Richard
Trumka, the AFL-CIO's secretary-treasurer, and Gerald McEntee, president of
the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, had
improperly raised money for Carey," the Times continued. "By citing these
leaders and by disqualifying Carey, the decision is a stinging setback to a
group of liberal labor leaders wh
o are close to Sweeney and behind the labor movement's efforts to revive
The stakes were upped on November 24, when the government took nearly
complete control over the Teamsters' finances and internal affairs. The U.S.
Attorney for the Southern District of New York appointed Marvin M. Levy a
so-called "Independent Financial Auditor" for the union. Levy hails from
KPMG Peat Marwick, an accounting and consulting firm. Before that, he was as
a senior analyst for the FBI.
Levy will have full authority over all Teamsters financial transactions
other than "routine expenditures" (such as salaries). This auditor also is
now responsible for all contracts other than collective-bargaining
agreements, and will approve Teamsters activities--including hiring and even
organizing campaigns. He joins William Webster, former CIA and FBI director,
who heads the government's "Independent Review Board."
Ron Carey approved this step before announcing, on November 25, that he
would be taking a "temporary, unpaid leave of absence, effective immediately."
Why the bosses are furious
Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU) held a national convention in late
November. The Carey situation was at the center of the discussions. TDU,
founded by rank-and-filers in Cleveland in 1976, was the major force for
reform during the Teamsters union's darkest undemocratic days. TDU involved
rank-and-filers in a national network, one that was well established by the
time Carey got his chance to
run for the union's presidency.
The New York Times, covering the gathering, reported: "Many Teamsters here
argued with utmost sincerity that Carey was being railroaded ... to punish
him for trouncing corporate America in the UPS strike. They said it was no
coincidence that just four days after Carey won an impressive contract with
UPS, his victory over Hoffa was overturned, and just days after the
Teamsters and other unions defeated President Clinton's [fast-track] trade
bill, Carey was disqualified." (Nov. 24)
We couldn't agree more. It is no coincidence. Ron Carey has played a key
role in major battles against the employer class. There's lots of evidence
of "illegalities" in Hoffa's own fundraising, but he hasn't been disqualified.
It can be stated unequivocally: the government's moves against Carey are
because of his leadership of militant union activities, not because of
alleged "corruption" in the Teamsters union.
Just take a look back at the bosses' response to the UPS victory. We
reported extensively on this in The Organizer (Sept. 1997). It's worth
repeating one reaction, in a New York Times op-ed piece--titled "Worker
Backlash"--by Stephen S. Roach, chief economist and director of global
economics for Morgan Stanley Dean Witter:
"[G]one are the days of a docile American labor force that once acquiesced
to slash-and-burn corporate restructuring."
The massive public support for the UPS strikers is testimony to the change
that has begun.
Remember the night of the UPS settlement? Carey spoke to reporters and
declared it a victory for all working people in this country. Further, he
declared his support for a new economic agenda that puts human needs before
profits. And when it came time to battle Clinton in the Congress over fast
track, Carey put the Teamsters at the center of the struggle. The union's
website was loaded with resour
ces for activists to put to use -- only one small part of the Teamsters'
commitment to ensuring the bill didn't pass.
Anyone who suggests Carey isn't being punished for the stands he has taken,
and for the battles he has waged, is living in a dream world. Keep in mind,
the Independent Review Board, after an extensive investigation in 1995, had
cleared Carey of every charge of Mafia connections, every charge of corruption.
Now the bosses are bound and determined to break the fighting spirit of
Teamsters rank-and-filers, using Carey as their bludgeon. They're even
trying to bankrupt the union by forcing a rerun election that is expected to
deplete the union's treasury by an estimated $7.4 million, money better used
for organizing and strike funds. Similarly, the ruling class is intent on
punishing the AFL-CIO, which aided the Teamsters strike against UPS with
major financial backing and also waged the battle against fast track.
Government intervention through the Consent Decree
Direct government intervention in the Teamsters union began with the 1989
Consent Decree, which resulted from the Justice Department's effort to apply
anti-racketeering statutes to the labor movement.
This intervention was used by the reform movement to win control of the
union, curtail much of the mob involvement in the Teamsters, and introduce a
far greater degree of rank-and-file democracy.
But the government's goal was not to introduce democracy. Rather, it wanted
stability and traditional "business unionism" in the Teamsters to preempt a
growing rank-and-file revolt, largely led by Teamsters for a Democratic
Union. TDU then fought for free elections as part of its own agreement to
the Consent Decree.
The government took a gamble. The intervention would obviously lead to a new
leadership, but the government was banking on that leadership embracing the
same business unionism the bosses have come to expect from the U.S. labor
movement. But, as the UPS strike demonstrated, Carey wasn't about to play by
Today, the Consent Decree has become a weapon against the Teamsters and the
entire union movement. It is the means by which the government is forcing
this undemocratic rerun of the election, and it is the means by which the
government is denying Teamsters rank-and-filers the right to vote for the
candidate of their choice. Further, government intervention has disoriented
the reformers themselves.
Witness the fact that Carey okayed the appointment of Levy, and that Carey
supporters are calling on the government to investigate Hoffa, demanding
that he too be disqualified from running for the Teamsters' top office. That
gives the government the right to decide who the union's candidates for
office should be.
And when the Teamsters executive board, comprised primarily of Carey
supporters and reformers, was asked by the government's Independent Review
Board to file internal charges against Carey, the board referred it back to
the IRB rather than take a stand in defense of union democracy.
This reliance on the government has got to stop. Teamsters need to stand up
to the government, not look for ways to get "off the hot seat," as the
Cleveland Plain Dealer described the executive board's decision (Dec. 4). As
that paper continued, the decision "also puts the matter in the hands of a
trio of overseers known for stiff penalties, raising the possibility that a
man widely credited for major union reforms could be expelled from the
An internal affair
In the aftermath of the government's decision to rule Carey off the ballot,
a heated debate has broken out among Carey supporters over Carey's alleged
role in the fundraising affair. Articles in Labor Notes, The Nation and In
These Times -- all of which at first backed Carey -- have accepted the
government's premise that Carey is guilty of illegal fundraising. They all
claim Carey is at least partially responsible for this situation.
According to arguments made in these publications, Carey -- who was fighting
an extraordinarily difficult election battle against Hoffa Jr. and the "Old
Guard" -- made a fatal error in his campaign by deciding to cast his lot
with outside consultants linked to pro-Democratic Party lobbying groups.
Hoffa Jr. had promised to spend "what it takes" to get elected. And he spent
a fortune--some $4 million. Carey, seeking to match Hoffa's fundraising
abilities (undoubtedly aided by the bosses themselves, and especially by
operatives for the Republican Party) dollar for dollar, failed to put his
faith in the union's rank-and-file members for financial and political
support, relying instead on these outside consultants.
These publications claim that Carey's choice flowed from more than just the
need for campaign money in the abstract. He had another objective: to break
his reliance on TDU. From the beginning of last year's campaign, he
apparently snubbed several leading TDUers in favor of others for his
national slate -- some with stronger ties to the Old Guard than
rank-and-filers could stomach. This is one explanation for the closeness of
Carey, however, denies authorizing the use of $735,000 of the union's own
money to help fund his campaign against Hoffa Jr. He and his attorneys have
prepared a 133-page rebuttal of the government's decision in which they
refute all charges of "illegal fundraising, knowledge or approval thereof."
Carey also points out that the entire government case against him rests
primarily upon the uncorroborated testimony of a tainted witness, Jere Nash,
who lined his own pockets with Carey campaign contributions, faces 10 years
in prison, and is now seeking a trade for leniency from the government.
It is also necessary to emphasize that Carey was denied his due-process
rights to a hearing, a trial, and an opportunity to confront his accusers.
But the main point is that the issue of Carey's alleged wrongdoing in
campaign fundraising is for the rank-and-file of the Teamsters union to
discuss and decide -- and no one else.
The ranks of the Teamsters showed their ability to take matters into their
own hands when they took on and defeated UPS in one of the most resounding
union victories in decades. They have the capacity to resolve whatever
problems may exist in their own union. For this, the union has its own
internal structures, oversight committees, and ultimately elections.
The U.S. government and the twin parties of Big Business have no business
meddling in the internal affairs of the Teamsters union. It is not their
purview. They don't belong inside the union. They have no right to keep
Carey off the ballot. This decision is as undemocratic as they come and must
be combated by all union members and labor supporters.
How to fight back
What is most important in this situation is the continued independence of
the unions themselves, and their ability to fight on behalf of workers. This
is a class issue. It's up to rank-and-file Teamsters to decide who will lead
the union, and it's imperative that the union do its own housecleaning --
including of Hoffa Jr. and his mob-related supporters--and get out of the
business of reliance on the government. To do otherwise is to legitimize the
role of the government in the union, and ultimately of the bosses the
government serves. It means giving up the union's independence, and
subverting its purpose.
With the heightened attacks on the labor movement, a strong, unified
response is called for -- one led by the AFL-CIO (which thus far has
remained dangerously silent on the matter) and seeking to involve every
working person in this country, whether or not in a union. After all, these
attacks are aimed at the ability of working people to defend their interests
through their own independent organizations. The stakes are very high.
The AFL-CIO leadership, the Teamsters union, TDU, and others need to lead a
vigorous campaign to defend the Teamsters and to demand the government
immediately halt these attempts to subvert the independence of the labor
movement. And just as in the UPS strike, the unions should appeal for public
support--which, if the situation is explained clearly, will be forthcoming.
Working people will respond to defend other workers from the bosses'
pernicious "anti-corruption" deceit.
There's another force that ought to be at the center of this fightback: the
Labor Party. Both Democrats and Republicans are fueling the fires of this
capitalist onslaught against the unions. Could there be a better opportunity
for the Labor Party to expose the dead end of continued support to these
parties of the bosses? Isn't it time to go on a massive campaign to
demonstrate why labor needs its own independent political voice, and show
what that voice would mean by waging a vigorous battle to defend the
Teamsters and the AFL-CIO?
Negotiations for a national freight agreement, as well as for the Teamsters
at beer giant Anheuser Busch, are on the horizon. This fightback against the
bosses' attack on the union needs to start--and win--before these
negotiations are tilted in favor of the employers.
It's time to get the government out of the Teamsters union -- and out of
every other union in the country. It's time to put the bosses on notice that
working people will defend their right to independent organizations that
protect their interests. Let's get started.
Reform Slate Wins in Chicago
On Dec. 6, Teamsters Local 705 in Chicago chose the entire slate of 11
pro-Carey reform candidates in an election widely viewed as an indicator of
the presidential election rerun to come in 1998. The local has some 18,000
members. Local 705's was a hotly contested election. Gerald Zero, a Carey
ally running for secretary-treasurer. polled 3506 votes to Dan Passo's 3271.
Passo is a supporter of James Hoffa Jr. "Democracy is clearly taking root
with Teamsters throughout the country," Zero said in victory (San Francisco
Chronicle, Dec. 8).
The outcome in Chicago illustrates Ron Carey's statement that the reform
movement is "bigger than one man." There have also been recent reform-slate
victories in Teamsters locals in Washington, D.C., Rock Island, Ill.,
Minneapolis, and Forest Hills, Texas.--S.C.