By NAT WEINSTEIN
I picked up a leaflet last month announcing a forum titled “What’s Next for the Teamsters?: A TDU* Activist’s Report.”
The meeting was jointly sponsored by the Committees of Correspondence (an offshoot of the Stalinized Communist Party) and a political association that is ill-named Solidarity. Both groups describe themselves as “socialist” but support government intervention in the Teamsters Union.
Given that James Hoffa Jr., the new Teamster president, keeps raking TDU over the coals for its past connection to Ron Carey, I was curious to hear what they had to say.
In his report the featured TDU activist identified himself as a member of Solidarity. (He was understandably not identified by name on the leaflet since he was involved in a fight for his job and his political association could be used against him.)
He gave an informative and accurate account of the outcome of the election and the ongoing fight by rank-and-file Teamsters.
In the course of his talk he credited Ron Carey for his outstanding accomplishments as Teamsters’ president-highlighting Carey’s leadership in the outstandingly successful UPS strike that prompted the government attack on him.
(Curiously, the speaker went out of his way to credit Socialist Action for its positive contribution to the Teamsters Union and to the TDU- despite hostility to Socialist Action by his organization, Solidarity.)
However, he said almost nothing on the matter looming like a dark cloud over the sponsors of the meeting and their representatives on the podium.
The organizations they represented had notoriously failed to defend Carey, the militant Teamster president, who had been politically assassinated, removed from office, and expelled by the bipartisan capitalist government of the United States.
The charges against Carey-that he had stolen Teamster funds to finance his 1996 reelection victory over James Hoffa Jr.-had been completely refuted in a legal brief submitted by Carey’s lawyers to the Internal Review Board (IRB), the government agency now riding herd over the Teamsters Union.
Moreover, the IRB, which finally expelled Carey from the union, failed to make even the slightest attempt to refute the evidence of Carey’s innocence presented in his legal brief.
The IRB was compelled, in the end, to admit that the government did not prove its case against the Teamsters leader, thus conceding that Carey, indeed, had no knowledge of the self-serving larceny committed by a public relations firm he had hired.
Nevertheless, the IRB axed the Teamsters president on the ground that “he should have known.”
Much earlier, some TDU leaders had conceded Carey’s guilt even before he had responded to the charges against him. Thus, they were first to declare that whether he was guilty or not he was culpable because “he should have known.”
And far worse, the TDU passively accepted the government’s overturn of Carey’s 1996 reelection victory, his disqualification in the rerunning of his election victory, and finally expelling him from the union.
Convicting Carey on the grounds that “he should have known,” legal experts say, would be laughed out of any legitimate court. After all, the simple fact of the case is that the actual criminals secretly conspired to line their own pockets with the lion’s share of the stolen funds-as would any other embezzler.
As Carey’s legal brief noted: The IRB’s conviction of the Teamster president on such grounds is equivalent to convicting a bank president because of embezzlement by one of the tellers he had hired.
But the government was out to get Carey, no matter what, and when their case against Carey collapsed, they resorted to the phony “he should have known” argument.
Ex-Trotskyist makes himself useful
In the discussion period following the presentation by the TDU activist, several in the audience defended Carey along the lines outlined above and faulted those in the labor movement who did not.
Among Carey’s defenders were two TDU members in attendance; one was Bob Mattingly-a highly respected, long-time rank-and-file TDU leader-and the other was Bill Leumer, who is also a member of Socialist Action.
As noted above, the TDU activist made no attempt to defend the position of either the TDU leadership, the COC, or Solidarity. However, the chairman of the forum, Barry Sheppard-an ex-Trotskyist who is a member of both Solidarity and the COC-took the floor to defend government intervention in the Teamsters Union and to blame Carey for his undoing.
Sheppard argued that by hiring the public relations outfit, which had been closely tied to the Democratic Party, Carey laid the foundation for his own removal. In other words, he should have known that nothing good could come from Democrats.
Aside from merely repeating the TDU/Solidarity cop-out, this argument is pure demagoguery since both groups support the bipartisan government’s takeover of the Teamsters Union.
Sheppard can’t have it both ways-if you are for government control of the Teamsters, you also put confidence in the two capitalist political parties that comprise the U.S. government.
But Sheppard is doubly inconsistent, since the COC openly supports “lesser evil” Democrats and “independent” (i.e. Democratic) politicians like Jesse Jackson!
The two TDUers mentioned above, Mattingly and Leumer, effectively responded to Sheppard’s cheap shot by explaining what made Carey different from most, if not all other, top labor officials-he dared to mobilize his membership in defense of their class interests.
(Moreover, it’s well known that every single top official in the AFL-CIO supports capitalist politicians, so why single out Carey?)
But in any case, TDUer Bob Mattingly noted that no one-not the central TDU leadership, not Solidarity, not the COC-had voiced a word of criticism before or after Carey hired these professional fundraisers for the Democratic Party and other pro-capitalist political institutions.
I would add two further arguments:
First, Carey’s courageous fidelity to his membership and to workers’ class interests was nevertheless in de facto opposition to his pro-capitalist political stand. But his loyalty and courage were rewarded with victimization by the capitalist class and abandonment by self-described “socialists” aspiring to the leadership of workers.
Second, the TDU leadership’s rush to distance itself from Carey when their union’s president and most effective leader came under fire by the class enemy, failed to save them from being linked with Carey by Hoffa Jr. and his gang of pro-employer, old-guard bureaucrats.
And worst of all, because they conceded Carey’s guilt and did not defend the Teamster membership’s right to cast their vote for or against Carey in the re-running of the 1996 election, they can’t defend him or themselves without exposing their failure to live up to the spirit of their name-Teamsters for a Democratic Union.