The Question of Corruption

October 21st, 1999

Metro Labor Press Association

Robert Fitch

I want to thank the folks at Wagner for letting me speak here tonight. And also Marty Fishgold and Jack Shierenbeck of the MLPA for inviting me to participate in the Critical Issues series. Jack has been particularly helpful. He tried to get the Fruit of Islam to provide security. They were unavailable. But he did manage to get the Vegetables of Marxism. I can see they're out in force tonight.

Let me start out with an admission. If there was anyone who was oblivious -- even hostile -- to the issue of union corruption it was me. Ten years ago, I was working as a consultant for CWA Local 1180, on city economic development issues. We were promoting the idea of reviving the port of New York. I suggested one way to build a coalition was to support the candidacy of Lou Valentino, the head of the Brooklyn Longshoremen. Lou was running for an open seat on the city council. I got a big check to put in his hand, that I walked over to him. As I walked across the threshold of the Longshoremen's Hall on Court Street, I noticed carved in stone above the door, "The Anthony Anastasia Memorial Hall." Anthony was "Tough Tony." His brother, Albert Anastasia was the head of Murder Inc. "The Lord High Executioner". Together, they helped found the Gambino crime family. I remember thinking, "Well, that was a long time ago." But when I entered the hall, it was like a scene from the Soprano's. Women in big hair filing their nails. I went up the stairs, it was just a couple of days before the election. Lou was sitting there alone yelling into a phone, "Get me a dozen Puerto Ricans. And put them on a flat bed truck." He was busy but glad to see me. I gave him the check. We shook hands. I thought I'd won an ally. The next week, Wayne Barrett exposed Lou's ties in the Village Voice. I was angry at Wayne. By writing about corruption, he was missing the big picture.

My critics make three main points: number one, I overemphasize corruption. "It's not that prevalent," they say. Two: my writing about corruption, is inaccurate and unreliable. I get things wrong. And three, when I do manage to get something right, the truth is no defense, because the net impact of the stories is harmful to the overwhelming number of good union leaders out there trying to organize workers, raise wages and represent an increasingly cynical membership.

I worry a lot that the critics might be right. Certainly I've made mistakes. Under deadline pressure, covering a fast developing story, I've relied too much on a single source; I didn't double check a fact. More generally, my academic conscience tells me I've committed the two primal sins of journalism: over-simplification and exaggeration.

But then I look back on the stories I began to write when I left the union payroll in '94, and I ask myself, "Would the stories I wrote have been better left unreported?"

Was it wrong to report in '96, the charges that DC 37's citywide contract ratification vote in '95 was fixed? The story turned out to be true: the Kroll Report found outright fraud in 22 out of 48 locals. "Yes" was really "No." In several others fraud wasn't so bad. DC 37 aides fixed the ballots after they ate at the Gee Whiz Restaurant. The Gee Whiz? You won't find it in Zagat's NYC restaurants.. But you will find it in DA Morgenthau's indictments. At the Gee Whiz, DC 37 honcho's could order a few dozen sandwiches and get back a bill for $12,000. Which the members would pay. And the leaders would steal. Dining at the Gee Whiz, DC 37 crooks could double their productivity: at a single sitting they could furnish padded bills from the Gee Whiz and inflate vote totals from the election. Besides the moussaka was great. And only $8.95.

Staying with DC 37, was it wrong to suggest in the summer of '98, that the biggest scandal in New York City labor history was brewing -- This year there have been two dozen indictments. There are 40 more in the works -- --"according to sources." So far though, there've been only five for vote fraud. The rest have been for stealing. Charlie Hughes ran up a $350,000 bill at Victoria's Secret. Al Diop brought a 300 person entourage with him to Waikiki; In one month, Fran Autovino -- who pled guilty this month to stealing $220,000 -- hit the Mirage, the Desert Inn, Caesar's Palace and Bally's-- all in one month at union expense.

Fran admits she's a crook. Charlie's lawyer, says he was suffering from a bi polar disorder. So what? So plenty. Here's the institution that for the last quarter century has enforced the urban Establishment's program for labor discipline on the municipal work force: from the 69,000 layoffs in the fiscal crisis; to the WEP program; to a double zero contract during the city's biggest boom since the '60's; to the political endorsement and financing of Giuliani, the most anti-labor Mayor ever. And, in the leadership of this most important disciplinary institution, it turns out, corruption wasn't deviant, honesty was.

Let's be clear: we're not talking about a few individuals going bad, we're talking about a racketeering enterprise. A kleptocracy. To keep it in operation, a deal had to go down between Gracie Mansion and 125 Barclay Street: Maybe Rudy never said, " We need a billion dollars from you guys in contract savings, stuff the ballots if you have to, and we'll look the other way while you stuff your pockets."But that was the deal. And you couldn't read about it in the New York Times. Not to say the Public Employee Press.

Maybe like the premature antifascists of the 1930's, I got on the story too early and stayed with it too long. But even after the replacement of DC 37's executive director by a trustee, it turns out that elections are still being fixed in DC 37. Subpoenas went out last week for the fix I reported last month in Local 372. So it's not ancient history that DC 37 presidents used death threats against would-be challengers. Because threats are still being made. And the head of DC 37 is still blowing off protesters with the slogan "local autonomy." I think it's relevant too, that for the last decade, AFSCME judicial panels have routinely dismissed election protests even when protesters could show that the incumbents took the ballot box home with them.

Of all the stories I wrote, I think the one really stamped me as someone out to get labor leaders was "The Union from Hell." But in 1998, when I began working on the story, I had no idea that UNITE was involved. A source told me that Kathy Lee clothes were being made in a particularly revolting sweatshop not in central America, or in Saipan, but at 446 Broadway. Just doors from where UNITE was holding it's Christmas of Conscious demo against Guess? It was the workers -- who hadn't been paid in nearly 12 weeks -- who told me that the sweatshop had a contract with UNITE. Then I learned of DOL documents that show that while two thirds of the garment shops in the city are sweatshops, three quarters of UNITE's factories are sweatshops by the unions own standards. In violation of wage, hour and safety regulations. Further research showed that UNITE officials -- in Local 23-25 UNITE's largest local and in Local 10 their flagship cutters local in the garment district have confessed or been convicted of taking bribes from bosses to ignore the contract. It's old news that Local 102 the trucking local was run by the Gambino's for decades. "We have never been able to control Local 102," the President of the ILG explained. It turned out too -- after I wrote the story that a top UNITE official, a UNITE lawyer, and the former chief of organizing are on tape strategizing with Luchese crime family operatives about which garment shops to shakedown.

A subject best left unwritten? Obviously, from the standpoint of Jo Ann Mort, UNITE's director of Communications, who told a meeting of Nation staffers that my stories were all lies; But if they were, why didn't UNITE's EVP Edgar Romney -- who's on the tape -- mention one of those lies in his letter to the Village Voice. And why shortly after the story appeared, did UNITE announce the formation of a task force to suppress Sunday work in its shops?

In the book she edited, Not Your Father's Union Movement, Mort herself writes about the need for "core positioning and message discipline." But this is not a strategy for journalists trying to find the truth; or reformers trying to right what's wrong; it's the method of public relations consultants trying to create an image. "Message discipline" underpins UNITE's own strategy for presenting itself as a fighter against sweatshops with its highly successful campus campaigns against overseas garment makers. But the best move UNITE could make in the battle against sweatshops -- if it wanted to protect its members, instead of just its image -- would be simply to enforce its own contracts here in New York. The truth is that UNITE has presided over the greatest collapse of labor standards in this century, while piling up more financial assets per member than any union in the country. If my stories have made it harder for UNITE to stay on message, I think I can live with my conscience.

I write about corruption in unions, because I believe that trade unionism, is potentially the most important force in the world today for justice, equality and the dignity of ordinary people. As historian David Montgomery says, "for straightening people's backs,". Homestead, Lawrence, Patterson, The Uprising of the 20,000, Flint, Gastonia, Hormel. Long after the names of AFL-CIO leaders kept alive by their public relations staff have been forgotten, the names of these great labor battles fought by anonymous workers will live. They show how, through concerted action, through individual sacrifice and common courage, working people can challenge the injustice and inequality that comes with the capitalist territory.

But this countervailing force is running very weakly in America today. It's become weak because the brand of unionism that's triumphed is not the kind that's celebrated by the busts on display here in Wagner. "You could just as easily clean up a garbage pile by spraying it with attar of roses" Gene Debs once said, "as reform the AFL."

The problems are pretty much the same as in 1905 when Debs helped found the IWW as an alternative to the AFL: The Federation is still made up of a lot of fragmented, patronage-driven political machines, over-staffed and overpaid, tied to the Democratic Party machines locally and the Democrats nationally. Our unions minimize the possibility for participation of the members and maximize the potential for corruption of the leaders.

It goes without saying that a corrupt union is a bad union. One that will never be a school for solidarity. But absent market conditions that no longer exist in the US, like a regulated trucking industry, a corrupt union will always be weak union, too. And weak unions explain a great deal of what's wrong with this country's economy and its political system. Is it just a coincidence that today, in America, we have the weakest unions in the advanced capitalist world and the greatest income inequality? How else do we explain that Americans work longer hours than any people in the world. Retire later. And take the shortest vacations. Why is child poverty here ten times what it is in Finland? Lazier kids? Why don't we have universal health care coverage yet? Obviously the main reason is insurance company resistance. But the main countervailing force is missing in action. Trade unions have private health plans. Doesn't the Federation's historic failure to enlist in the struggle for universal health insurance count for something too?

In our political system -- marked by the world's highest cost and the world's lowest voter participation -- -- a labor party candidate for president is too far-fetched for serious discussion. Why should it be more far-fetched than the candidacies of Donald Trump, Warren Beatty and Oprah Winfrey, Cybil Sheperd? They're all out there.

Yes, political scientists talk about the decline of the party system, the rise of consultants, the spread of polls and focus groups and all that. But isn't part of the reason labor can't hope to play an independent role in the political system -- even at the local level -- is that with the eclipse of the socialist Left and the merger of the CIO into the AFL -- unions no longer act as agencies for political participation for working people? They no longer mobilize, educate, activate. A lot of members don't even know they're members. "What union are you in? " Outside the uniformed officers and the trades, most workers can't tell you. The more knowledgeable, will answer, "Local 237", or "Local 1549, "But the question" Of what?" is usually a stumper..

Supporters of the trade union status quo will agree with some of this analysis. Some will acknowledge that weak unions are economic inequality go together. Privately, some are dissatisfied with a political role that's shrunk to little more than paying protection money to the Democrats. But all agree that the reason unions are weak can be entirely explained by factors external to unions -- the unfavorable regulatory environment, the courts, the NLRB, the culture of individualism, globalization, the strength of employer resistance and so forth.

It's a curious position. For the last two decades, labor history has been dominated by the idea that workers aren't just acted upon by external forces. They make their own history. But when it comes to labor's present the consensus is that nothing workers do; nothing about the way they're organized explains why they're weak. And so union leaders bear no responsibility whatever for union decline

Oh, yes, John Sweeney now says that under his predecessor, Lane Kirkland, the AFL-CIO failed to devote enough resources to organizing. But I think the root of the problem is less organizing, than the way the AFL-CIO is organized. A lot of unions that could double their membership, without increasing their strength. Look here in New York. The problem isn't the unions lack paid members. UNITE still has almost fifty percent density. Municipal unions, led by DC 37 have even higher densities. But they're still weak with a membership that is mainly nominal. Unions would like to be strong. But not if it means bringing in the members. Our unions are designed to minimize participation of the members; and maximize opportunities for corruption of the leaders. How that design is engineered into our AFL-CIO unions; what explains it, is the principle question I'm researching in Sell-Out! .

The Metaquestion of corruption

But tonight, I want to raise what Professor Stanley Aronowitz, my distinguished predecessor in this series last year, has defined as a "metaquestion." A metaquestion is the question about the question. Why should corruption be a question at all?

Labor movement officials are unanimous in thinking it shouldn't be. As Rosa Luxembourg once observed, "Unlimited praise and boundless optimism are made the duty of every 'friend of the trade-union movement." These friends of labor raise three main objections to writing about corruption in general.

No.1. This is the most common. Corruption, they say, is simply not that widespread. Union leaders are no more corrupt than business leaders. So why pick on them?

Objection No.2. If corruption charges are widespread, it's not because there's corruption. It's because the government uses corruption charges to discredit militant labor leaders.

No.2. chimes with the most powerful and devastating charge which is. No.3: people who raise the corruption issue, say defenders of the trade union status quo, are collaborating with management. "Exposing corruption helps the boss." No. 1 denies the importance of corruption; No.2. attacks the motives for the charges. No.3 argues that the consequences of ventilating corruption charges are negative.

(a) Let's start with No. 1 -- the claim that corruption is unfairly overemphasized. At the '95 Columbia Teach-In With Labor sponsored by SAWSJ, Richard Rorty, America's most famous philosopher, minimized the corruption problem of American unions.: "their record is no better or worse than that of American churches; American law firms, American business firms, and even American academic departments." The mainly academic audience laughed and cheered.

But does the mob tells department heads whether to hire analytic or postmodern philosophers? Do the Five Families have a religion panel -- one that divides the congregations between the Baptists and the Methodists the same way they have a construction panel that regulates construction unions here in Manhattan? Crime families have regularly chosen the leaders of the Teamsters, the Laborers, Longshoremen, Hotel and Restaurant Workers union. And my research suggests, they have played a role in choosing leaders in the blue collar division of AFSCME DC 37 which paid for the Columbia Teach In.

What Rorty says about the corruption of churches and universities is provocative but ultimately halfbaked. His insistence that business and unions are "just as corrupt" is more plausible, but it's systematically misleading. Misleading in three main ways.

First, there's small business. Throughout the American economy --particularly in construction, trucking, garment, carting, restaurant industries -- bosses bribe trade union leaders to protect themselves against the outbreak of strikes. For the right to ignore the contract, not to have to hire unions workers; pay into pension and benefit funds; so they can blow off safety regulations. Labor leaders in turn, pay mobsters for protection, for the right to shakedown bosses, splitting the proceeds they receive from the contractors. Adults know this. But how does the fact that bosses' participate in these schemes make the corrupt labor leaders any less culpable? Should members feel better about being sold out, because their bosses are in on the deal too?

Then there's big business. Here the relationship with racketeers is very different. Is there any evidence that Goldman Sachs or G.E.. pay protection money to the Gotti's for the right to sell bonds or light bulbs? None I've come across. The corporate and banking elite are at the top of the capitalist food chain. That's why we call them the ruling class

They do really bad things. I've seen figures that show that in a given decade, one fifth of the Fortune 500 will be convicted of a serious crime. But how meaningful it is to call giant corporations "corrupt"? For something to have become corrupt, it once had to have been good. There has to have been some deviation from a previously upheld standard of morality or justice. The tobacco industry appears to have conspired to keep information about the addictive properties of their product secret -- so they could earn billions, while treating millions of their customers to a slow, agonizing death. Most would agree that this is wrong, the courts are starting to rule that it's illegal, but do these horrific acts make tobacco companies corrupt? When was the golden age of tobacco companies?

People are angry when they hear that Ford knew that rear-end collisions would cause the Mustang to explode or that Johns-Mansville knew how lethal asbestos was even as they pushed its use in schools and hospitals. But how many people felt betrayed? The corporations were simply delivering on their mandate to put the stockholders first. Unlike the unions, the corporations didn't sell out the people whose interests they supposed to promote.

Unions are supposed to be run for the members. But corrupt leaders sell them out. Instead of the protecting the worker from the boss, the corrupt trade union leader protects the boss from the workers. The nature of the betrayal is truly unique. When has an American union leader ever been indicted for giving a bribe to a boss to sell out his stockholders?

The upshot is that corporate executives can hurt us only once. But because unions have stood for something besides the worship of the golden calf, union leaders can hurt us twice. First with the blow to our wallets and second with the blow to our hearts.

So, I would argue, you can't get rid of the union corruption problem with the mechanism of moral equivalence. But what about the claim, that there's simply not that much corruption to worry about. Recently, a trade union leader with who knows the New York City movement very well, complained to me along these lines. He's one of the most honest guy I know. He puts every check he writes on the bulletin board of the union hall, so all the members can challenge him. "You exaggerate corruption," he said.waving a dinner fork at me. "I think eighty percent of all trade union leaders in this city are honest,"

"Joe," I said, ( let's call him Joe), do you realize what you're saying? We've got nearly 2 million Americans in jail or prison. Let's say that for every one they've got behind bars, there are 10 crooks they haven't caught. That would still mean that less than 10% of the American people are criminals. Twenty percent is huge. It would mean trade union leaders are more than twice as corrupt as the American people. It would explain why polls show that even pro-union workers think their leaders are corrupt.

Besides, "were 80% of the leaders in DC 37 honest?" On the executive board 8 out of 20 have already been indicted. In the two largest locals, containing 40% of DC 37's membership, most of the members of the executive board were indicted. Corruption is not a new development. The Vaira report estimated in 1978 that in New York city 100 out of 600 locals were not just corrupt but controlled by crime families. In other words, nearly 17% of city unions aren't just corrupt, they're racketeering enterprises.

Are 80% of the construction unions honest? Why then are there trusteeships over the Carpenters, Laborers district councils and the teamsters local 282 that handles construction sites.

To get a sense of what corruption means in the trades, I would offer a brief longitudinal study of the NYC District Council of Carpenters. I'll go back only as far as 1982. That's when the wallet belonging to Ted Maritas, President of the District Council, turned up beside the East River. They never found Ted. The consensus explanation was that he had a family problem. His mob family was concerned that after he got indicted in 1981, he'd cooperate with the feds.

Maritas was succeeded by Paschal Maguiness. Paschal Maguiness was first indicted in 1991. He beat the charges. But he was finally forced to step down in 1995 for his mob ties. As part of the settlement, Maguiness was banned from the district council for life. Evidently though, this experience looked good on Maguiness' resume as for as the International Brotherhood of Carpenters was concerned. Because following his resignation in New York he got appointed almost immediately as an international vice president in DC.

Fred Devine came in 1995 to clean up the mess left by Maguiness. Devine fired a foreman at the Javits for being an associate of the Genovese crime family. (Fred worked for the Colombo's.) When he ran for office in 1995, Devine got nearly a million dollars from something called the Labor-Management Cooperation Fund. He used some of the money for a billboard campaign promoting his candidacy. Finally he was indicted by the Manhattan District Attorney and convicted in March 1997.

Devine was brought down by a conflict between his two mistresses. First, there was his Rochester girl friend, Lucy Virginia who was on two union payrolls. Devine traveled regularly to see her from New York on a private jet paid for by the union. Then there was his other girl friend Jonni Clause-Stanton. A golf pro from New Jersey who Devine hired as his consultant.

The problem was that Devine told his Rochester girl friend, Lucy, that he'd hired Clause-Stanton as his bodyguard. When her picture appeared in the union paper. Lucy said Jonni didn't look like a body guard. The next thing you know, Fred was permanently grounded.

That brings us to the present regime, headed by a trustee. But under the new trusteeship, business agents who tried to report nonunion work got fired. Just a couple of months ago, the District Attorney seized the District Council's files. Just a few weeks ago, Tom Robbins reported that one of the prime sources in the DA's investigation, a dissident carpenter, had been killed in an accident on the job.

By this time Joe had put his fork down. He conceded. In exchange for his concession, I agreed to pick up the check. But I take Joe's point -- there are tens of thousands of honest, militant, hard-working officials and staffers in the American labor movement. Particularly at the local level. My point is that they're swimming against a corrupt tide. And that you can't turn the tide if you refuse to acknowledge which direction it's running.

(b) The second objection I hear is that indictments of union leaders are really just punishments for their militant actions. Charlie Hughes a militant? In 1994, Charlie was the first trade union leader in New York City to endorse the Mayor. Charlie hugged the Mayor so often, we used to call him the 'serial Giuliani hugger.' Who was the second?. Turkey Joe DeCanio, chief of DC 37's ballot stuffing division. In exchange, for DeCanio's cash, Rudy Mastro took 200 workers from one DC 37 local and put them in Turkey Joe's local

"Laborers President Arthur Coia has been an acknowledged leader in fighting for change, for a stronger labor movement, and for cleaning up corruption wherever he could find it." That's why he was being attacked. So testified John Sweeney before a House Committee. Actually, there's more to it than that. In 1994, Coia Jr., was the target of a 212 page Justice Department complaint alleging he and his father were long time associates of the Patriarca crime family. In the early 80's-- Father and son were indicted with the Patriarca's for ripping off a LIUNA dental plan. They escaped conviction on a technicality. Coia Jr. even admitted he became Secretary Treasurer of LIUNA only with the approval of the Chicago Outfit.

Yes, that's all in the past. But if you want an example of how far Coia's clean-up has gotten in LIUNA, download the audio tape of Vice President Steven Manos being beaten last year at a meeting of Local 230 for protesting a union expenditure. It's at You can hear Charlie LeConche, the head of Connecticut LIUNA district council saying to Manos at an executive board meeting, "I'm about ready to tear your fucking throat out." You can hear Manos' cries. And LeConche saying, "We own you." as Steve is thrown down the stairs. Afterwards,the guy that beat him, the sergeant at arms, Frank Freeman, was promoted to Vice President of the local. International LIUNA VP President Vere Haynes was in the room, watching the beating. He never said a word. Later, LIUNA's GEB attorney issued a reprimand for this Hobbs act violation. Some clean-up.

But what about Ron Carey? Wasn't he punished for his militant role in the UPS strike? Alexander Cockburn wrote in the Nation that the charges against Carey were being driven by a Larouchean conspiracy in the service of big business. "Harass Carey...Harass the AFL-CIO leaders to whose project Carey is vital," he wrote," Now probe anyone trying to build a combative even radical labor movement. Get them on the run. Get them in front of a grand jury. Get everyone frightened and persuaded that trying to build a radical, combative labor movement is against the law."

A strong statement of the case. But not an altogether unfamiliar one. More than a dozen years ago, similar words were spoken by an even more prominent Leftist. "Bust unions, discredit union leaders; now take over unions. Teamsters, you are the starting point."

These were the words of Jesse Jackson at a 1986 Cincinnati Convention Center rally in support of Jackie Presser, who'd just been indicted. The truth was that Presser was both a mob puppet and a FBI snitch. But this didn't prevent him from getting the traditional leftist defense: a combination of flat denials; and broad claims about plots to destroy the labor movement.

Let's look at the Carey case: As the federal election officer who ordered the '96 Teamsters election rerun, Barbara Zack Quindel would have to have been in on the plot. But according to Quindel, she made the decision before the strike. But she didn't reveal her decision so as not to affect the strike's outcome. There's evidence to back her claim. But in any case, why would Barbara Zack Quindel, want to expose a money laundering scandal that implicated her husband and forced her own resignation? Quindel was making nearly a $1,000,000 a year when she stepped down.

So far, we've examined the claim that corruption charges are just a punishment for trade union militancy; the efforts to deny the scope and seriousness of union corruption; the argument that the participation of businessmen in trade union corruption somehow renders it less objectionable. None of these contentions seems very convincing. A more effective argument doesn't impugn people's motives or deny the facts or try to make corruption go away by the method of moral equivalency. Instead it talks about the consequences of corruption stories: they help the boss and demoralize trade unionists fighting the good fight inside the union.

I heard this a lot after the Voice series on UNITE. "What you don't see," I was told," is that there are honest people in UNITE. They're doing real organizing. It's them you're hurting.".The general concern was well put in a pamphlet put out by the National Interfaith Committee on Worker Justice," As wrong as union corruption is, it is unfortunate that union corruption receives so much front page media attention, compared to the important justice work done by unions to raise wages, benefits and working conditions for low-wage workers." (Newsday, 9/5/99) As we've seen, the DOL estimates that 75% of UNITE shops in New York City are sweatshops by the union's own definition. Some members make as little as a dollar an hour while the contract calls for over $9.00 an hour. There's even a system whereby the workers buy their checks to make it appear that they're getting the federal minimum wage. What's "unfortunate" is not what's in the media but what's in the shops; not the exposure of the conditions but the refusal of the union to fight them. Maybe if the ministers spent more time in the shops talking to workers instead of on the dias dialoging with labor leaders, they'd be more effective apostles of justice they seek.

There remain the concerns of honest leaders of the trade union movement who sincerely believe that corruption stories weaken them. Your stories," I've been told by people I respect," strengthen the cynics who think all trade union leaders are corrupt." But why don't these honest leaders themselves rebel against the dishonest ones? Why run the church sale out of a crack house? Would corruption stories create cynicism if AFL-CIO leaders themselves drew the line against the dishonest leaders? They rarely do anymore.

After the McClellan hearings in 1957, George Meany proclaimed how surprised he was to discover corruption in the Teamsters and the Longshoreman. But he kicked them and their per capita's out of the Federation.He also established an ethical practices committee. Which last met in 1959.

But can anyone imagine Sweeney-- doing anything similar? Meany established the principle that if you took the Fifth on corruption charges you were out. Sweeney supported Rich Trumka, the Fed's no.2, who took the Fifth three times in connection with charges he illegally funneled $150,000 in AFL-CIO cash into Ron Carey's 1996 campaign.

Sweeney never uttered a negative word about Gus Bevona -- the highest paid union leader on the planet; who illegally hired a gumshoe to harass a union dissident and then billed his members for his private legal expenses when he sued. And you can understand Sweeney's silence: until 1995, Sweeney was getting upwards of $90,000 a year from Bevona. Even more directly, Sweeney participated in violating the dissident members' rights.

"But if you didn't write about corruption, no-one would know, "I can hear people say,". And at the end of the day, the labor movement would be better off." In the end, I can't refute the claim that corruption stories undermine unions. Not because it's true, but because we can never know for what the consequences of any political action will be.

Writing stories about corruption can be a form of political action. I try to shape them into that form by denying what defenders of the trade union status quo affirm: that unions have only one side -- and it is represented exclusively by union leaders. Even when the leaders obtain office by fraud and use office to sellout the members to the boss. In my experience the union can have two sides.

On one side are Luxembourg's "friends of labor" -- who produce "unlimited praise and boundless optimism" on demand for the leadership; and on the other are the members who believe in unions must have a horizon higher than "where's mine?" and broader than "what's the deal?". I'm on their side. Without them I could hardly write a word. Because where do stories about corruption from? Not from the bosses. I didn't get the DC 37 story from the Giuliani Administration but from the reformers, from Mark Rosenthal, Robyn Little. Ray Markey, Tom Dawes, Roy Comer. Not from the owner of the sweatshop on 446 Broadway but from Chinese Staff and Workers association, from Wing Lam and Joanne Lum. In the laborers, not from the contractors, but from Gary Wall; Barney Scanlon; Pete DiNuzzo and Louise Furio. In SEIU-- from Paul Pamias and Carlos Guzman- not the cleaning company bosses. They got on quite well with Greedy Gus Bevona.

The point is to show in these unions there really are two sides. A corrupt side and the reformers side. The labor establishment insists that the voices of Hill, Bevona and Coia are the authentic voices of American trade unionists. Who is promoting cynicism? Who is providing hope?

Is there hope? Will the reformers win? It's impossible to know for sure... If the reformers win, will they do better than the status quo leaders they seek to replace? Maybe once in power the DC 37 reformers will produce triple zero's. We can't know the consequences. But what's the alternative? We know the consequences of keeping silent about corruption..


America needs a lot more than a raise: it needs a rank-and-file movement against corruption, one that will reform trade union organization along participatory lines. The idea of such a movement makes a lot of people on the left nervous. Orthodox Leftists will argue that workers' protest must be a protest against the factory boss, not the union boss; the factory floor; not the union hall; against objective conditions; not workers'own institutions. .

But the revolt against "objective conditions" won't win unless new institutions replace the corrupt ones now in place. Labor can learn something from the 16th century reformation of the church. The problem then too was defined in terms of corruption. "The canonization of a long line of saints could not detract from the blatant lack of saintliness in the Church as a -whole," writes Norman Davies "Europe was full of tales about simoniac bishops, nepotistic popes, promiscuous priests, idle monks and above all, the sheer worldly wealth of the Church."

Top officials were using the Church's role as defender of the poor to enrich themselves. Just the way the Gus Bevona's and the Stanley Hill's use the union's role as defenders of the workers to disguise their role. The medieval popes canonized the St. Francis and St. Teresa, the way the AFL-CIO bigs invoke Gene Debs, Mike Quill and Mother Jones.

Historians say Luther set off the Reformation when he nailed his 95 theses to the door of Wittenburg castle. But they rarely say what was in the theses. It turns out that many were accusations against a corrupt church official named Johann Tetzel, whom Luther had caught selling indulgences. Medieval kickbacks. Of course Luther's protest went well beyond corruption. His point was to use the corrupt state of the clergy to argue for new congregations in which people worked out their own salvation. Without Rome. And its official hierarchy. It's a stretch from Luther and the Popes to the Wobblies and the executive council of the AFL-CIO but if there's a common thread it's that we're all leaders.

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