AFL-CIO: endorse Al, stay out of jail

Michael Pugliese debsian at
Mon Dec 27 10:05:18 MST 1999

       Though this piece doesn't mention it, Harold Ickes, Jr., 1996 Clinton
campaign fund raiser/ball squeezer (if you saw any of the Senate Thompson
Committee hearing on Chinese campaign cash you'll remember attack dog Ickes-
(If the left has as tough a spokesperson as Ickes is for New York
liberalism, I haven't heard them!), ex-White House Deputy Chief of Staff,
and in tight with Hillary, has represented  Arthur Coia's corrupt union. Sad
that a man who was savagely beaten by Southern yahoos during the Civil
Rights movement would help thugs with 200K salaries from union dues check
                                        Michael Pugliese

Date: Sun, 26 Dec 1999 22:40:48 -0500
From: Doug Henwood <dhenwood at>
Subject: AFL-CIO: endorse Al, stay out of jail

[via Michael Eisenscher]


The alliance between Al Gore and big labor exposes the Clinton
administration's soft line on union corruption

Talking Politics by Seth Gitell

The AFL-CIO needs Al Gore. Not for his position on trade, which it
opposes. Nor for his opinion on China's joining the World Trade
Organization -- with which it also disagrees. Big labor needs Gore to
maintain what union dissidents, labor-democracy advocates, and
Washington insiders see as the Clinton administration's lenient
approach to corruption in the labor movement. To these observers, the
AFL-CIO's early endorsement of Gore's presidential campaign may have
been more about protecting labor leaders than about advancing the
interests of American workers.Central to this suspicion is a series
of cases in which the Justice Department is moving slowly in
prosecuting allegations of corruption in the labor movement or is
cutting sweet deals for labor leaders implicated in wrongful
activity. Consider the following:

* The sluggish investigation into corruption in the Teamsters union.
More than two years after the Justice Department began its
investigation, prosecutors last month won a conviction against
William Hamilton, the former political director of the Teamsters, for
his role in diverting union funds to the 1996 re-election campaign of
Ron Carey, whose victory over James Hoffa in the Teamsters'
presidential election was subsequently reversed by federal monitors
because of the money laundering. Yet other figures who may have
played a major role have yet to be touched.

In particular, prosecutors outlined the role of Richard Trumka, the
secretary-general of the AFL-CIO, who evidence suggests may have
facilitated an illegal scheme to kick back $150,000 of Teamsters
funds to the Carey campaign through a donation to Citizens Action, a
liberal activist organization. Trumka took the Fifth Amendment in the
case. (Legally, pleading the Fifth cannot be taken as an admission of
guilt. But it is grounds for dismissal as a union officer under the
AFL-CIO's Ethical Practices Code, and the federation expelled the
Teamsters for taking the Fifth during the 1950s.)

Further trial testimony revealed that Gerald McEntee, the president
of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees,
and Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International
Union (SEIU), also agreed to contribute to Carey's campaign in
violation of federal labor rules governing the election. (An SEIU
spokesperson says no such offer was ever received by or agreed to by
Stern.) Trumka and McEntee were key proponents of the AFL-CIO's
October endorsement of Gore. The Hamilton trial finally took place
after that endorsement -- a coincidence that saved Gore some
embarrassment when he addressed the labor federation.

* The case of Arthur Coia, president of the Laborers' International
Union. Coia, who once faced the prospect of a massive civil
racketeering suit, was able to work out a deal that gave the union
the ability to monitor itself and allowed him to retire at the
equivalent of his annual salary of $335,516. In March, a union
hearing officer found Coia guilty on conflict-of-interest charges
stemming from the purchase of a $450,000 Ferrari from a Rhode Island
car dealer, who helped the union boss sidestep luxury taxes on the
car. Coia, a Clinton ally who once attended a state dinner with the
emperor of Japan, resigned as the president of the union earlier this
month. He is said to be negotiating a plea agreement with federal
prosecutors on the relatively benign conflict-of-interest charge.

* The case of Edward Hanley. The former president of the Hotel
Employees & Restaurant Employees International Union forged an
immunity agreement with federal prosecutors last year. Despite a
federal monitor's finding that Hanley used union funds to pay for a
$2.5 million jet, and Cadillacs for union leaders, his deal with
authorities shields him from prosecution. The Chicago Sun-Times
reported that the Justice Department gave federal prosecutors only
two weeks to determine whether a criminal case could be made against

If Gore were a better candidate than Bill Bradley on labor issues,
these matters would be irrelevant. But in fact, an argument can be
made that the opposite is true. Bradley, who was a steward in the
players' union when he played with the NBA, has embraced a sweeping
plan to provide health care to the poorest Americans. He is calling
for tough penalties on companies that illegally hinder unions from
organizing, and he supports labor's position on common situs
picketing, or the right to picket everywhere on construction sites.
Finally, he wholeheartedly supports what is the holy grail of labor
organizing -- card check. If this provision is accepted, all a union
has to do is get more than half a company's employees to sign union
cards, and -- presto -- they have a union.

Gore, meanwhile, is the candidate who appeared on Larry King Live to
make the case for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)
before the deal, which was opposed by all the national labor unions,
passed in the United States. Gore is also the candidate who presided
over a series of trade agreements between this country and its
foreign trading partners -- including the agreement on China's entry
into the World Trade Organization. He relies heavily on principals of
a consulting firm that helped craft the grassroots campaign for
NAFTA, and he is surrounded by conservative Democratic Leadership
Council operatives who have worked hard to make the Democratic Party
friendly to business. Finally, Gore has served as vice-president
during an era that has seen more concentration of wealth and income
into the hands of a few than the country has witnessed in 70 years.
Gore even seemed to acknowledge Bradley's stronger support for labor
when he labeled his rival a "left-of-center insurgent."

- --------------------------------------------------------------------

Labor's backing of Gore is a pretty cynical move, says Kim Moody,
director of Labor Notes, a labor-democracy group based in Detroit.
"The idea is that a good deal for labor is, they get to protect their
most crooked guys," Moody says. "The Democrats are going to go softer
on those people in some cases. That's the one thing that Gore and
these people can do for organized labor. They're not going to give
them card check. They're not going to give them global labor
standards, which labor really needs. But they could give them the
ability to protect their leaders who have their hands caught in the
till. I don't think it's a good thing at all."

Alex Corns, the business manager for Hod Carriers Local 36 in Daly
City, California, agrees. "If we had a Justice Department that was
being run by straight-up people, [Coia] would have been removed,"
says Corns. "You haven't heard anything about the [Teamsters]
money-laundering scandal. What happened to all that? It all vanished.
It's in the AFL-CIO's best interests to keep Gore in there. Somebody
like Bradley might be too much of an individual for them."

"That has nothing to do with why we endorsed Al Gore," counters
AFL-CIO spokeswoman Deborah Dion. "We endorsed Al Gore because he
stood shoulder to shoulder with the labor movement during the
critical last five years of an anti-working-family Republican

Granted, what Dion's implying is undeniably true: the GOP is labor's
main political enemy. And some observers say that by going with the
front-runner so early -- even if he is not the best candidate to
promote their interests -- labor is doing the most it can to head off
a Republican victory. If George W. Bush is elected president, after
all, labor will find itself in an even worse position than it's in
today. Bush signaled as much at the most recent Republican debate in
Iowa, when he targeted the unions' practice of deducting dues
automatically from workers' paychecks and using them for political
purposes. "The Democratic Party is really the Democratic Party and
the labor unions in America," he said. "And my worry is that you do
nothing about what's called paycheck protection . . . You can't take
a laboring man's money and spend it the way you see fit."

But given labor leaders' possible implication in wrongdoing, lack of
support for union practices isn't the only thing labor would have to
worry about if the Republicans recaptured the White House. For an
example of what top officials of organized labor might be up against
in a Bush administration, look no further than the husband-and-wife
team of Joseph diGenova and Victoria Toensing. DiGenova served as the
United States Attorney for the District of Columbia under Ronald
Reagan; Toensing was a Justice Department official under Reagan as
well. They worked for a Republican-led congressional committee that
investigated the Teamsters probe. Toensing says evidence dug up by
her committee pointed to more potential criminal liability than was
investigated. "The evidence we had in our hearings pointed to
Trumka's involvement," Toensing says.

The labor leaders and their supporters, of course, say they have
nothing to fear. Trumka's attorney -- Nicole Seligman of the
well-known Washington firm Williams & Connolly, who represented
President Clinton in his impeachment trial -- has proclaimed her
client's innocence in statements to the press. The lawyers for the
other principals have done likewise. Asked whether his client Arthur
Coia may have received mild treatment at the hands of prosecutors,
Williams & Connolly's Howard Gutman says, "That rumor was
preposterous when made and proven to be preposterous at congressional
hearings." And as to whether the Manhattan US Attorney's office may
be dragging its feet in the Teamsters investigation, Gutman says, "It
would be absurd to think that it would matter to a professional
prosecutor what any party a labor official belonged to. Anybody who
knows the prosecutors in the Southern District of New York knows they
could not be influenced in the slightest by politics."

Neither the Justice Department nor the US Attorney's office in New
York responded to telephone calls seeking comment. Gore, who has
taken no formal position on the continuing Justice Department
oversight of the Teamsters, told the Associated Press that the case
should be decided "on the legal merits, not on the basis of what I
think or the president thinks." All Bush-campaign spokeswoman Mindy
Tucker would say on the matter of potential inquiries into labor
corruption is that "a Bush administration would make decisions based
on what's best for the country, not based on politics."

- --------------------------------------------------------------------

As the Clinton/Gore connection to labor corruption unfolds,
opposition to the Gore endorsement is emerging. The president of the
Teamsters, James Hoffa, has not followed the lead of the AFL-CIO in
endorsing the vice-president. Neither has the United Auto Workers.
Even Robert Reich, President Clinton's former secretary of labor,
elected to endorse Bradley last month. "Bill Bradley has come up with
a set of policies that are better for the working people than the
policies advanced by Al Gore in this campaign," says Reich, who now
teaches at Brandeis University. "This economic expansion is most
notable for the huge concentration of wealth and income it's created
at the top. Families in the middle have barely seen any improvement
in their incomes, and working families below them are working harder
for less money."

Labor activists on the local level are echoing Reich's message. In
New Hampshire, Beth Campbell, a board member of SEIU Local 1984, says
she is with Bradley because the former senator favors tougher
penalties on companies that play dirty to fight organizing efforts.
In San Francisco, Doug Yamamoto, the business representative of the
Glaziers and Glassworkers Union Local 718, is supporting Bradley
because Bradley favors letting unions picket both union and non-union
gates at a worksite. Yamamoto says that Bradley got a standing
ovation for his stance at the national meeting of his organization.
And Tom Shea, the business manager of the International Brotherhood
of Electrical Workers' Local 405, appeared at an event with Bradley
last week in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. "I was impressed with him at a
Jefferson-Jackson Day orchestrated by a lot of people that like to be
a shill for Mr. Gore," Shea says. "Sometimes the internationals
forget to check with local people to see how they really feel before
they put forward their opinion."

The AFL-CIO is unfazed by this dissent among the ranks. "We're very
proud of the fact that we endorsed Al Gore," says the AFL-CIO's Dion.
Back in October, the AFL-CIO's president, John Sweeney, lauded Gore
for his 88 percent labor voting record as a senator from Tennessee --
an anti-labor state. Sweeney praised Gore's work on workplace health,
wage standards, Medicare, and Social Security. Dion also claims that
Gore supports the card-check policy that would make it far easier for
unions to organize, and notes that Gore talked about it at an AFL-CIO
convention four years ago in Pittsburgh. Gore has added a reference
to card check in his talking points to labor.

Does Reich, who headed the Labor Department during much of the
Clinton-Gore years, remember Gore's being a big supporter of card
check? "No." Did Gore lobby Reich to help make card check a reality?
"No." Does Reich remember Gore's saying anything about the issue?

"Gore isn't proposing to do this," Reich says.

- --------------------------------------------------------------------

Of course, there are reasonable arguments to be made for the AFL-CIO
leadership's hasty endorsement of Gore over Bradley. Both candidates
have pretty lousy records on trade. At least Gore, as an avowed
environmentalist, wants the World Trade Organization to deal with
issues that affect the environment and would like labor concerns to
be considered. (Bradley announced support for similar labor and
environmental protections recently at Tufts University.) Then there
is the thinking that labor is best served when it comes out early and
marshals its power in favor of a single candidate. This is what the
AFL-CIO argued in its endorsement resolution: "The best opportunity
to influence the outcome of the 2000 elections is through the early
and full participation of working men and women . . . The 2000
election cycle is already well advanced. The issues that will drive
decisions in November of next year are being shaped now, and the
presidential nominees will be chosen by early March. Every week we
delay the full involvement of working people in that process will
lessen the impact of our views and voices."

But essentially, labor leaders are with Gore because he is the devil
they know. Notwithstanding talk of scandal and illegal activity, big
labor likes the Democratic establishment. In this case, that means
Gore. Many of the labor leaders in this country -- John Sweeney and
Gerald McEntee, to name a couple -- are closely allied with the
Clinton-Gore administration. McEntee, in particular, spoke
passionately on Gore's behalf at the AFL-CIO's convention in October.

Big labor is also closely allied with Clinton fundraiser Terry
McAuliffe, the businessman who offered to back the $1.35 million
mortgage for the Clintons' new home in Chappaqua, New York. The New
York Times has reported that a union pension fund loaned him $50
million to finance one of his real-estate deals, and Vanity Fair
notes that the AFL-CIO used Household International Corp. -- a
banking client of McAuliffe and Martin Davis, a campaign consultant
implicated in the Teamsters scandal -- for its credit-card business.
The union's decision won McAuliffe a share of millions of dollars in
commission money.

McAuliffe is the focus of some scrutiny because of a plan -- the
details of which have emerged as a result of the federal Teamsters
probe -- for the union to siphon money to the Carey campaign through
the Democratic Party. In his interview with the New York Times, he
acknowledged that he discussed a swap of donations between the
Teamsters and the Democratic Party, but he said he did not know the
DNC money was supposed to go to Carey's campaign. His lawyer has told
the press that McAuliffe is innocent of any wrongdoing. Without even
speculating about his role in these matters, it is worth asking what
labor has to gain by allying itself with a fat cat like McAuliffe,
who is, as Vanity Fair puts it, "a self-made multimillionaire, with a
fortune that may reach into nine digits." McAuliffe represents big
money -- the kind of money usually found in the GOP, not the national
labor movement.

Some labor activists, in fact, fear that potential new union members
will stay away if the American labor movement seeks to further its
relationships with the Terry McAuliffes of the world. That's what's
led Beth Campbell to get behind the Bradley campaign, which has put
the spotlight on campaign-finance reform. "I'm tired of fundraising
phone calls being made from the White House," Campbell says. "I'm
tired of them having fundraisers at a Buddhist temple. I'm tired of
having everything being whitewashed over."

Kim Moody, of Labor Notes, thinks the current system works against
labor's interests. "I don't think it helps that there are these
slimeballs who raise money. It helps to get Democrats elected, but it
doesn't do anything for labor," Moody says, suggesting that it might
be better for labor if it had emulated its counterparts in Europe and
created a labor or working-class political party.

- --------------------------------------------------------------------

Indeed, some activists see the Gore endorsement as a disappointing
sign of how little the labor movement has really done to keep up with
the times. When John Sweeney ascended to the helm of the AFL-CIO in
1995, many observers saw that as a watershed election. Sweeney had
wrestled control of the movement from the Lane Kirkland wing that
predominated in the waning days of the Cold War. Kirkland and his
protégé, Tom Donahue, were social-democratic Cold Warriors who had
aided the Polish solidarity movement and helped bring an end to
Soviet domination of Eastern Europe. But labor activists came to find
them out of step with changing realities. Sweeney's election was
supposed to usher in an energetic new age of labor activism.

To be sure, some of this has happened. Sweeney has helped publicize
the horrors of sweatshops. Labor organizing has targeted new
immigrants and forged alliances with other progressive causes. But
the four years since Sweeney's election have shown the current labor
leadership to be more of an interregnum, caught between two eras.
Although Sweeney was outspoken in opposition to the Seattle WTO talks
and on China's entry into that body, his tenure will most likely be
characterized by the grand alliance between labor and the
Clinton-Gore administration -- an alliance we will see in full bloom
during the summer months, when one of Gore's likeliest defenses
against Bush's TV attacks will come from labor ads (see "Going for
Broke," News and Features, December 17).

The real future of the labor movement probably lies in the grassroots
activism that put Seattle on the map and the pragmatic dynamism of
the Teamsters leader, Hoffa, who is waiting to see what he can get
out of the politicians before deciding to carry their water. Until
that future arrives, though, expect more contortions from labor --
and Gore -- as they try to work out the details of their unlikely

Seth Gitell can be reached at <sgitell at>


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