Ten years ago the U.S. Justice Department
filed a civil suit against the International Brotherhood of Teamsters
(IBT), North America's largest trade union, with 1.4 million members,
representing workers in both the United States and Canada.
The Justice Department alledged that
organized crime deprived union members of their rights through
a pattern of racketeering which included twenty murders, a number
of shootings, bombings, beatings, bribes, extortion, theft and
misuse of union funds.
Since 1957 every IBT president, except
Billy McCarthy, had been convicted and sentenced for one or another
Originally the Justice Department
announced that it would indict and remove the president of the
IBT and impose a trusteeship on the union under the provisions
of the RICO Act.
This meant complete supervision of
union affairs, including finances, until
there was a free and fair union election. The IBT denounced the
government action as a tactic of "fascists or communists"
and said that implementation of the trusteeship would lead to
the destruction of free trade unions.
Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU),
a rank-and-file movement within the Teamsters, opposed trusteeship
with the slogan "No mob control, No government control, Teamsters
need the Right to Vote."
They launched a national right-to-vote
petition that gathered 100,000 signatures and elected
275 reform delegates to the 1991 IBT convention (15% of the total).
By the time the Justice Department
filed its suit in the summer of 1988, it had backed off from
the trusteeship idea. Instead it indicted forty-eight IBT officials
for illegal activities and ordered the election of new officers.
The 1989 consent decree--an agreement
between the Justice Department and the IBT officials--created
an Independent Review Board to investigate corruption in the
union and provided for impartially supervised elections of all
convention delegates and International union officers for the
next two elections--1991 and 1996.
It didn't even ban the practice of
multiple job and pension holding that brought 134 Teamster officials
salaries in excess of US$100,000. Mere corruption could be tolerated
as long there was no outright violation of the law or open connection
to the Mafia.
The 1991 government-supervised election
saw the underdog, Ron Carey, a TDU-backed candidate for president,
beat the two old guard candidates despite the fact that they had
far more financial resources.
The reform slate of top officers included
working Teamsters as well as local union officials. It included
the first woman and Latino to sit on a Teamsters executive board,
and also included an African American.
It would be a big mistake to see Carey
as the person who singlehandedly transformed the union. While
Carey never joined Teamsters for a Democratic Union nor shared
its vision of a radically restructured and democratic union,
he was an effective ally.
As TDU explained it, there was now
a sympathetic and militant leadership that fought for change
at the same time that the rank- and-file movement continued to
push for change from below.
The Teamsters, however, is quite a
decentralized union and the continued domination of corrupt officials
at the regional and local level impacted heavily on the life of
the union. TDU ran opposition slates and won a number of important
locals to a reform perspective.
In seventy cases, Carey removed corrupt
officials and placed the locals in receivership. In other locals, officials who had at least gone along
with the old guard began to cooperate with the Carey administration.
Carey used his presidency to utilize
the resources of the union, build the union's new organizing and
strategic campaigns departments, remove corrupt local officers,
cut wasteful spending and eliminate the regional conferences--a
whole level of parasitic bureaucracy.
He opposed union participation in
various employer "team concept" programs and carried
out effective mobilizations of the membership, most notably in
a one-day wildcat against UPS in 1994, the 16-day UPS strike in
1997, but also a 24-day strike in 1994 to maintain full-time jobs
in the freight industry.
Now Carey stands accused of improper
swap schemes that donated Teamster dues money to organizations
that, in turn, had individuals write checks to his campaign. These
organizations have close ties to the Democratic Party.
"Donorgate" was first uncovered
by a Hoffa supporter, who doggedly sifted through the Carey campaign's
financial statements, then alerted the election officer of his
findings. What was first unearthed suggested a kickback--the wife
of political consultant Michael Ansara donated $95,000 to the
As a result, the election officer
ordered a thorough investigation. As a result, the election was
voided and a rerun ordered.
On September 18, 1997 three political
with ties to the Democratic Party pled guilty to crimes:
Jere Nash, to one count of conspiracy
and one count of making false statements;
Martin Davis, to one count of conspiracy,
one count of embezzling union funds and one count of mail fraud;
and Michael Ansara, to one count of
As part of their plea agreements, each
agreed to cooperate fully with the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Carey himself has not been accused
of personal corruption (taking money for his own personal gain).
Yet after months of investigation,
it has been established that between October 17 and November 1,
1996 Carey authorized $885,000 from the IBT general treasury
for political contributions, of which $475,000 went to Citizen
Action, $175,000 went to Project Vote and $85,000 to the National
Council of Senior Citizens.
He did so in a year in which the
IBT was suffering a negative cash flow and its net assets had
And, as Judge Kenneth Conboy--the
court-appointed election officer in charge of investigating
Carey- has noted, the size of the contribution is particularly
large. Conboy found that the average IBT contribution to Citizen
Action had been $5,760, with total contributions for the previous
four years amounting to $57,600.
Although it had been usual IBT procedure
to seek General Executive Board approval for general treasury
expenses in excess of $10,000, such procedures were not followed
with these contributions.
Additionally, the contributions themselves were controversial-- Aaron Belk, Mr. Carey's Executive Assistant, felt that funds for political or advocacy groups should be donated from DRIVE, the Teamster' political action fund. Yet by October this fund was depleted.
Further, Belk believed it was unreasonable
to makecontributions at the very end of the 1996 congressional
campaigns, when the outcome would not be effected.
On November 17, 1997--nearly one year
after Carey won his bid for re-election, Judge Kenneth Conboy
disqualified Carey from participating in the court-ordered rerun.
In his decision to rule Carey ineligible,
Judge Conboy concluded that Carey approved the expenditure of
at least $735,000 "based on his understanding that those
contributions would assist his campaign's fundraising efforts" and that this represented
a clear and serious violation of the election rules.*FOOTNOTE
Carey took an unpaid leave of absence
in order to appeal Conboy's decision, but the appeal has already
been rejected. (Secretary-Treasurer Tom Sever is acting General
President.) Meanwhile, the schedule for the Teamster rerun election
has been suspended, to allow for an investigation into James Hoffa,
The initial delay was for forty-five
days, but Election Officer Michael Cherkasky has asked for, and
been granted, an additional thirty days.
For its part, TDU has circulated a
petition calling for a thorough investigation of Hoffa and demanding
that the election officer be provided with all the necessary resources
to conduct afull inquiry.
They are particularly concerned with
Hoffa's ties to the Mafia and with pension fund transfers that
may have aided his campaign.
Disqualification is a longshot, but
if it could happen, rank-and-file Teamsters would have leveled
the playing field of the elections, and would have a greatly improved
chance at campaigning, and electing, a reformer.
While acknowledging the role Carey
has played in helping to implement reforms, I would suggest that
the reform movement is much broader than the elected officials
who identify with those reforms.
In fact, this situation reconfirms
the importance of a rank-and- file movement that can fight
to transform the union. It's the *movement* that remains center
There is no evidence that the Clinton
administration or the oversight apparatus singled out Carey. Since
the 1989 consent decree, the IBT election processes have been
closely monitored bygovernment-appointed officers.
It's not that the federal government
has suddenly become convinced of fair elections, either, but it
has made a calculated decision to rid the union of the Mafia.
For its part, however, TDU *is* convinced
of the importance of a free and open election process. In contrast,
some on the left point to the media and right-wing attacks on
Ron Carey, particularly for the role he played in the UPS strike.
They draw the conclusion that the
government and the right wing are out to destroy Carey because
he led militant strikes.
They denounce "government intervention,"
forgetting that there would not have been a procedure to elect
the International officers had it not been for the consent decree--and
Carey wouldn't have been elected to office in 1991.
It's clear that the *Wall Street Journal,*
the right wing of the Republican Party and several corporations
that employ Teamsters are delighted that Carey is now barred
The right intends to continue their
investigation through the use of Congressional hearings organized
by Republican Congressman Peter Hoekstra. Certainly the right
has taken advantage of the situation, but they didn't create it.
Clearly Carey made the wrong political
choice when he hired political consultants tied to the Democratic
Party. They bring with them the sleaze of mainstream politics:
"test marketing," direct mailings, and "soft money"
donations to the Democratic National Committee.
Not only are they costly, but they
do what union members should be doing--whether that's phoning
the membership or planning the campaign.
While several of the left groups that defend Carey are *for* independent political action, they fail to understand how Carey's use of these political
consultants created a direct pipeline
to the Democratic Party and its methods of operation.
As long as one accepts the "rules
of the game" that the mainstream politicians set up, a union
or an individual is almost inevitably led into corruption.
After all, the rules mean you have
to come up with the big bucks to finance a campaign, and the only
place there's money is around the mainstream parties.
A rank-and-file strategy presents
the only viable alternative: it suggests that a mobilized membership
can carry out an effective campaign even without the big bucks--and
the 1991 IBT election is the proof.
Denouncing "government intervention"
may be a quick fix for the some of the left, who were never very
much involved in Teamster politics to begin with, but it doesn't
mean much to workers who have been fighting for democracy inside
They've won the right to honest, open
and informed elections by making demands *on* the government.
The fact is that U.S. unions have
to comply with government regulations all the time. (U.S. labor
law is more restrictive than in most OECD countries.) Some of
the laws are relatively straightforward and reasonable, some are
But the issue here isn't protecting
the Teamsters from the hands of the government. Rather it is to
maintain and extend the gains of union democracy that made the
IBT qualitatively more independent of both organized crime and
Some leftists predict that if the
progressive movement doesn't unite to fight against "government
intervention," unions will be transformed into little more
than company unions.
That view seriously misrepresents
the state of the labor movement today, where most unions readily
collaborate with both government and employer.
The government report ruling Carey
out of the rerun election contains serious charges
against AFL-CIO Secretary- Treasurer Richard Trumka and AFSCME
President Gerald McEntee. Indictments are possible.
But diverting the members' money is a serious offense against the democratic rights of the membership. How can radicals and progressives defend such practices?
Only by overlooking the actual evidence.
If they actually discuss Conboy's
decision, they confine themselves to challenging Jere Nash's testimony
(which is admittedly dubious, since if the government deems him
to have become an uncooperative witness, Nash will face a heavier
It's as if many left-wingers don't
think the actual charges, the actual evidence, matters.
I believe that's a profound misestimation--it
is essential to remember that history has demonstrated that those
socialists who have not consistently defended democratic rights
lose their authority with the working class.
In the face of a right-wing assault,
we pay a price if we do not speak the truth--even if we wish the
facts were different. We simply can't gloss over the evidence.
The disqualification of Carey is a
reactionary decision--though for a different reason. It deprives
the membership of its hard-won right to vote for the leadership
of its own choosing.
The effective democratic remedy would
have been to re-run the Carey- Hoffa contest, under stringent
financing rules to prevent further abuse by either campaign.
In any case, defending Carey "against
government intervention" is not only a Herculean task, it
is pointing in the wrong direction.
The focus needs to be on the master
freight contract, which covers 100,000 workers and will expire
on March 31, 1998. It may be a more difficult fight than the fight
over the UPS contract because there is more than one employer,
and no one made a billion dollars in profits, as UPS did.
The union has been organizing visible
actions and a petition campaign, on the model of the UPS campaign.
Almost half of all freight workers
submitted surveys to help fashion the Teamsters' bargaining proposals:
job security that would limit subcontracting and double breasting
(a company operating under another name, which would be, conveniently,
non-union); increased pensions; safety issues and increased income
The members also understood that organizing
the non-union shops in the freight industry is a key priority.
For their part, the companies want
to avoid a strike, but they will also attempt to take advantage
of any disunity or weakness they perceive in the union.
TDU, meanwhile, is aggressively organizing
itself. It is setting up regional offices and it is discussing
possible reform candidates for the next election, whenever that
It is continuing to challenge the
old guard in local elections, and getting out the information
on Hoffa's long association with Mafia figures.
It's monthly newsletter, *Convoy Dispatch*
is getting out the information about
the campaign for the Master Freight Agreement. The reform movement
is alive and well in the Teamsters.
1. While the 1991 election campaign
was more of a grassroots effort, the campaign manager brought
in some political consultants, who later provided their services
to the IBT in the 1992-96 period. These included political consultant
Martin Davis, who was a partner in a direct mail firm, the November
Group; Jere Nash, who became Carey's campaign manager in February
1996; and Share Group, Inc., a Boston area telemarketing firm
that assisted with fundraising. Michael Ansara was a partner in
the Share Group.
2. See decision on web site:
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