Robert Fitch, Solidarity for Sale,
Public Affairs, New York, NY
432 pages $28.50
Reviewed by James McNamara
AUD Research Director James McNamara reviews Fitch’s analysis and critique of the US labor movement.
Robert Fitch's Solidarity for Sale is a provocative and timely account of how organized labor contributes to its shrinking size by a congenital blindness to internal corruption. Subtitled "How Corruption Destroyed the Labor Movement and Undermined America's Promise," Fitch's book unsparingly chronicles how all too many unions were created or taken over by labor racketeers.
Numerous building and construction trades, the Teamsters Union, and the Longshoreman's Union (ILA) have been exposed for decades by the media and law enforcement, but with few effective changes in their deep-rooted corrupt practices.
Corruption thrives in the building trades where job referrals are controlled by unscrupulous officers.
For openers, a younger Fitch, then employed by a progressive union, recalls being sent to deliver a modest campaign contribution to a Brooklyn City Council candidate based in ILA Local 1814. On arrival, Fitch was shocked to see "The Anthony Anastasio Memorial Hall" emblazoned over the doorway. Anthony "Tough Tony"'s brother Albert, boss of Murder, Inc. and founder of the Gambino Crime Family, controlled the ILA Local 1814. Fortunately defeated, Lou Valentino, recipient of the contribution, was serving simultaneously as the union's political action director while also a secret Gambino crime family member.
Bigger revelations highlight "a diet of daily corruption longer than the menu at a Long Island diner." District Council 37's sordid tale involves thirty convictions by Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau's labor racketeering unit. Yet there is still no support from AFSCME President Gerald McEntee for the membet's right to directly elect the executive director and other top leaders of DC 37. "One member, no vote" continues in full force despite DC 37 dissidents' demands for union democracy.
Fitch finds much that is admirable in the relationship of European unions with their members and the involvement of the rank and file in union and political matters. Overseas unions are strong and respected institutions that are not dominated by high paid bureaucracies enriched by job patronage systems for sycophants, Union corruption is rare, and members respect and involvement are correspondingly higher than in the U.S. Their strong support for social legislation, especially national health insurance, contrasts with the AFL-CIO Building Trades Department's shameful opposition.
Compared to the reported financial crimes of corporate CEOs and Wall Street insiders, union crooks may seem to operate more on the scale of subway turnstile jumpers. Fitch's point is that "corporate leaders are expected to act on the basis of pure self-interest, whereas union leaders are supposed to check corporate greed and not embody it."
Association for Union Democracy www.uniondemocracy.org