By CHARLES WALKER
Former Teamsters President Ron Carey is at long last getting his day in court. The nearly four-year delay ended on Aug. 29 in a New York federal courtroom where a jury of nine women and three men was selected to sit in judgment of a union leader who once seemed destined to inspire a new tide of labor militancy.
The government’s case against Carey largely rests on the testimony of once trusted aides, who are looking to trade their “good behavior” on the witness stand for reduced sentences.
The one-time Carey aides were earlier separately convicted for their part in an illegal fundraising scheme that involved Teamster dues monies.
Carey has not been accused of participating in the scheme but he has been charged with lying about his knowledge of what went on. Carey told a grand jury in 1997 that he had never been told about the scheme.
If found guilty, Carey, 64, could be imprisoned for 35 years, a virtual life sentence.
Many rank-and-file Teamsters have long believed that Carey is being framed up, because he led the hugely popular 1997 strike against UPS. Following the nationwide strike, the Feds ousted Carey from the union, preventing him from contesting James P. Hoffa’s bid for the union’s top spot.
No doubt Carey is remembered warmly by many rank and filers. One Teamster told the New York Post that “he [Carey] used to say he always fights for the forgotten Teamster. Now he’s become the forgotten Teamster.”
Carey is certainly not forgotten by his one-time opponents inside the nation’s largest private-sector union. Although Hoffa won the union’s presidency in 1998, he and his cohorts have maintained an unending propaganda war against Carey.
But Carey might as well be forgotten by some of his one-time allies. For not surprisingly, careerists and opportunists within the officialdom who once backed Carey have joined Hoffa. Hoffa’s sponsorship by the union’s worst elements has not been an obstacle for them.
Less predictable were the defections of some local union officers, and even active rank and filers, including some members of the reform caucus, the Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU), who seemed committed to Carey’s program of union militancy.
Some leading reformers undermined their own cause when they distanced themselves from Carey. The TDU leadership has never said clearly whether they believe that Carey is guilty or innocent of the government’s charges.
Truth to tell, Carey failed to call on his supporters, in and out of TDU’s ranks, to take action (perhaps strike action?) to defend union democracy from the Fed’s assault.
At the root of their failure is the adoption of a strategy of uncritically leaning upon the government to help clear the way for the ranks’ takeover of the profoundly bureaucratized union that had often been a piggybank for mobsters and wiseguys.
Ironically, it was TDU’s dependence on the government’s commitment to virtually guarantee the ranks the right to an impartial election, as well as the right to vote that turned out to be the slippery slope that led to their failure to stormily protest the federal monitors’ dictum that the ranks could not vote for Carey, despite his obvious, overwhelming popularity in the wake of the UPS strike.