By CHARLES WALKER
At a July press conference at the Teamsters’ Washington, D.C., headquarters, President James P. Hoffa announced a major step in his plan to entice the Feds to return the union’s autonomy to the officialdom.
Hoffa said that Edwin H. Stier, a former federal and New Jersey prosecutor, would oversee the union’s anti-corruption efforts. Hoffa hopes to convince the Justice Department that an in-house, anti-corruption effort headed by Stier under Hoffa’s direction, should replace the federal authorities specified by the 1989 Consent Decree.
Until recently, Stier was a court-appointed overseer of New Jersey Teamster Local 560, once headed by Anthony “Tony Pro” Provenzano, a convicted murderer and suspect in the disappearance of Hoffa’s father, Jimmy Hoffa.
The New York Times reported on July 30 that Stier said, “I am convinced that Jim Hoffa and the leaders of this union are committed to running a clean union and are determined to remove any remaining vestiges of organized crime.”
The New York Times (Aug. 14) ran a front-page article on Hoffa’s efforts, quoting unnamed union officials as saying that Hoffa “may ask presidential candidates to support an end to supervision as the price of endorsement by the 1.4 million-member union.”
The article confirmed speculation that Hoffa has held back-channel discussions with authorities: “Mr. Hoffa has also begun talks with the Clinton administration and several members of Congress with the aim of persuading the government to end its supervision.”
One of those unnamed members of Congress may be Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), who in 1997 used his committee to attack then Teamsters president, Ron Carey. Hoekstra was found to be collaborating with Hoffa’s representatives, including one-time followers of Lyndon LaRouche, the would-be fascist despot.
While Hoffa may be getting encouragement behind the scenes, Mary Jo White, the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan and the federal official in charge of the supervision of the Teamsters, told the press that “they were still weighing the matter.” And Charles Carberry, a court-appointed overseer of the union, said, “Mob control is gone but that mob influence remains in some locals along with plenty of garden-variety graft.”
Those statements indicate that White and Carberry will resist ending their jurisdiction over the union. But if a spokesperson for the nation’s trucking bosses has his druthers, Hoffa will get his way.
Daniel Bearth, with Transport Topics, a major trucking journal, wrote in a May 27 editorial that “it’s time for the federal government to let go of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.” Why? Partly, Bearth says, because “severe restrictions placed on contributions … designed to limit the influence of outsiders on the election process, apply to no other union….”
Since no one can seriously believe that America’s trucking bosses didn’t want Hoffa to succeed Carey, Bearth seems to be implying that those bosses would like to be able to help out Hoffa directly, rather than on the sly.
As Bearth’s sentiments indicate, so far Hoffa hasn’t given the bosses anything to complain about. However, some of his deals to date and the way he deals with the ranks are sure to cost him support in the union’s next election in 2001.
For instance, brewery workers in 1998 voted overwhelmingly for Hoffa, but since then were told by Hoffa that if they insisted on voting down a proposed contract with Anheuser-Busch (the nation’s most profitable brewing corporation) a third time, he would put them out on the street. Hoffa threatened that they might not get their jobs back.
The ranks gave in to Hoffa, and now even some local officials are bitterly angry that they are yoked to a six-year takeaway contract that’s sure to significantly reduce the size of the workforce, and thereby gravely weaken the bargaining power of the once proud brewers, bottlers, and allied crafts.
Although union officials, from Carey to Hoffa, have called for the Feds to end their intrusion into the Teamsters, no one has directly sought to poll the ranks for their views. The ranks didn’t get to vote when the union’s General Executive Board in 1989 agreed to allow the Feds to get a clamp on the union. And Hoffa hasn’t said anything about allowing the ranks to collectively pass judgment on any pledges or understandings he reaches with the Feds.
In its early days, the Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU) recognized that, in the last analysis, the ranks could only rely on themselves. In the wake of the 1976 wildcat picket lines and courtroom struggles that underlie TDU’s founding, the militant caucus said, “The most important point is this: You can’t win rank-and-file power by relying on the courts, federal judges, politicians or union officials.
“We will win our right to vote by continuing to organize the rank and file until we have our own power. That’s how our union was built in the first place. That’s how it will be rebuilt now. … The only way to win is to be so well organized they have to deal with us.”
Since then, TDU has said that “we don’t rely on the government or the law. We use the government and the laws, and we rely on the rank and file.”
However, TDU’s strategy of using the government backfired in a major way, when court-appointed overseers removed Ron Carey, who has yet to have his day in court and hear the judgment of a jury of his peers. Clearly, the conclusions about union bureaucrats, judges, and the bosses reached by TDU in 1976 were confirmed to the hilt in 1997 when the Feds ousted Carey in the wake of the stirring strike against UPS’s super-exploitation of part-time workers.
The boss press wrote one-sided accounts that helped the authorities frame up Carey, while the labor bureaucracy, including the AFL-CIO tops and their underlings, silently accepted the verdict-as passively as they accepted the destruction of the air controllers union, PATCO, in 1981.
Some may question Hoffa’s ability to soon convince the Feds that there will no longer be an embarrassingly showy presence of mobbed-up Teamster officials. But no one should doubt Hoffa’s ability to demonstrate that, with him in control, the Teamsters will not destabilize Corporate America’s labor relations with strikes like the 1997 strike against UPS-which received widespread moral support from other workers, and for a time seemed about to reinvigorate a languid labor movement.