New York Hard Hat News

LIUNA's Coia Reconsidered

by Henry Zeiger

The title of Bob Fitch's piece in the last issue of Hard Hat News, "Money talks, Coia walks," summarizes Fitch's conclusions - a simplistic view of a more complicated matter. Without condoning every action taken by the people Coia hired to clean up LIUNA, it doesn't seem that the fix was in from the start.

Herman Benson observes in a recent issue of Union Democracy Review that what is peculiar about the more serious charges leveled at Coia, is that all of misdeeds occurred in the period "before the consent agreement and before he had agreed to the current cleanup process." [Italics in original]. Further, Benson notes, the government which instigated this consent agreement knew about Coia's actions or inactions and chose to move ahead with the process Coia proposed.

Luskin, the prosecutor, takes a stern view on all this. Vaira, the judge, said in effect, "Wait a minute. What else could he do?" Maybe Luskin is correct, maybe Vaira, maybe neither, but it doesn't seem to be the case that Luskin and Vaira entered into a conspiracy with Coia, the Justice Department and White House to whitewash LIUNA. Luskin and Vaira do disagree about what view to make of what Coia did or didn't do.

Fitch views the fact that LIUNA paid both Luskin and Vaira as very suspicious. He thinks that this money proves that the process is a charade. We live in a world where lawyers charge lots of bucks for their work-good, bad or indifferent. That may not be a wonderful thing and this may not be a wonderful world, but it is the way the world wags. It's not peculiar to LIUNA.

Much of the attention focused on Coia and LIUNA stemmed from a Republican effort to link Coia to Clinton and use that link to tarnish the labor movement's furnishing money and other resources to the Democrats. But even the grand inquisitor, Kenneth Starr, turned away from the Coia-Clinton link in his impeachment document. Fitch goes further than Starr ever did,

Without going into laborious detail, it's worth examining some examples of Fitch's reaching foregone conclusions. Fitch notes that Coia allowed mob guys to attend his father's funeral. Everyone admits that Coia, Sr. was closely associated with these people. For Coia, Jr. to tell his father's pals that they couldn't come to the funeral would have been viewed by them as a calculated insult-a lack of respect. Bigger guys than Arthur Coia have been whacked for not showing proper respect. It might have been an heroic act for Coia to tell the Chicago mob to stay away from this funeral, but most mere mortals would look the other way.

Fitch also uncovered the news that Luskin, before he was hired by Coia, received a large sum in gold bars to defend a member of the Patriarca crime family. Mob guys do not always observe normal banking procedures. If your guy is found guilty and goes to the can, he may not be inclined to pay. It's prudent to get something up front in whatever form he can furnish it.

Fitch is on firmer ground when tells us that Coia shouldn't have associated with a Chicago mob boss, Vincent Solano. But again, this was prior to Coia's becoming LIUNA president, prior to government intervention, prior to any cleanup. And it's very old news. The government knew about it when they passed on taking over LIUNA.

Herman Benson comments: "If sanctions should be taken against Coia now, even up to his removal, for appeasing the mob in the days before the consent agreement, then the whole leadership of the union, from top to bottom, obviously was guilty of the same offense."

The reform process in LIUNA has been imperfect. It has not produced a wonderful, clean, entirely democratic union. It has produced a union where opposition candidates are not beaten within an inch of their life at conventions, where the union's presiding officer does not associate with guys with guns in their pockets, and where the members will in the future elect their international officers by direct vote. Limited progress, granted, but progress, nevertheless. Given LIUNA:s sordid past what reform system would have worked better?

Fitch seems to share a common illusion that somewhere over the rainbow there are prosecutors, trustees, lawyers that will transform the union and make everything shiny, new and wonderful. That has not happened in any of the government-supervised takeovers. Lawyers can't run unions. FBI men don't know beans about unions. Prosecutors can't manufacture heroes.

An informed, militant, organized membership simply does not exist in LIUNA. A few tinkling pianos and several isolated, honest business agents, are no substitute for a widespread organization such as Teamsters for a Democratic Union that spent years propagating its views.

There is now a possibility in LIUNA for members to create an organization to advance their collective interests. That opportunity wasn't there before Coia instituted his imperfect efforts at reform. To expect more from some miraculous government intervention is to demonstrate a lack of contact with the always imperfect world we inhabit.

Return to

(c) All orginal work Copyright 1998. All rights reserved..