[Marxism] Pete Camarata, Who Fought Fellow Teamsters for Reforms, Dies at 67
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Sat Feb 15 18:05:52 MST 2014
NY Times Feb. 15 2014
Pete Camarata, Who Fought Fellow Teamsters for Reforms, Dies at 67
By DOUGLAS MARTIN
In 1976, Frank Fitzsimmons, president of the Teamsters, struck a defiant
note in a speech at the union’s convention in Las Vegas. “To those who
say it is time to reform this organization, and it’s time officers
stopped selling out the members,” he said, “I say to them, ‘Go to hell.’ ”
The next day, Pete Camarata, a rank-and-file Teamster dedicated to
reform, rose to say he opposed Mr. Fitzsimmons’s re-election as well as
a pay raise for him. He said Mr. Fitzsimmons and his lieutenants had
stifled democracy in the union and ignored workers’ concerns. He called
for a rule that would automatically expel any Teamster officer who
accepted a bribe from an employer.
Boos and catcalls drowned out his remarks.
Afterward, Mr. Camarata — who died last Sunday in Chicago at 67 —
attended a cocktail party in the hotel ballroom, but felt unwelcome and
excused himself. Several beefy sergeants-at-arms offered to escort him
outside. (Mr. Camarata himself was a hefty man, at one point weighing
400 pounds.) Suddenly, one of them punched him. Others kicked him in the
head with their pointed cowboy boots. His face was left purple and
swollen, his right eye closed.
The police were sympathetic, until they conferred with Teamster
officials. According to Lester Velie’s 1977 book about the Teamsters
leader Jimmy Hoffa, “Desperate Bargain: Why Jimmy Hoffa Had to Die,” one
officer then said, “Get out of town, buddy, and get out fast.”
Mr. Camarata left Las Vegas, but he did not abandon his fight to reform
the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. In 1981, as head of a
dissident group, he ran for president of the union, the first outsider
to challenge its leadership. He lost badly.
The campaign was one of many fights his group, Teamsters for a
Democratic Union, picked with a union that the federal government
regarded as corrupt. Some were successful. In 1989, the Teamsters
leadership accepted the group’s proposals for electoral reform. By
agreeing to the direct election of international officers, the union
avoided a federal trial on racketeering charges but was subjected to
The dissident group grew to more than 8,000 members, and though it
comprised just a tiny fraction of the union’s total membership of two
million, it was a major force in the election of Ron Carey as a reform
candidate for Teamsters president in 1991. Mr. Carey included group
members in his leadership coalition. (He was later forced out by the
federal government, accused of receiving illegal campaign contributions.)
Mr. Camarata retired from the work force in 1995 but continued to fight
for union reforms until his death of renal cancer, his wife, Robin
His first marriage ended in divorce. Besides his wife, he is survived by
a stepdaughter, Aimee Potter, and a stepson, Jackson Potter.
Peter Joseph Camarata was born in Detroit on Sept. 7, 1946. His father,
Caspar, worked at the Packard Motor Car Company for 36 years, where he
helped the United Automobile Workers organize. His mother, Mary, cooked
in restaurants and at union meetings.
Pete attended Roman Catholic schools and sang in a choir. As a high
school student he helped collect day-old bread for a shelter for the
homeless. He enrolled at Wayne State University in Detroit and got a job
on the loading dock of a trucking company to help with expenses. He
ended up dropping out to work full time on the dock and began to think
of himself more as a Teamster than as a worker. He became active in
Local 299 — the local of both Mr. Hoffa and Mr. Fitzsimmons — and was
He was a Hoffa ally. After Mr. Hoffa was released from prison in 1971 —
pardoned by President Richard M. Nixon after serving time since 1967 on
jury-tampering and fraud charges — Mr. Camarata worked unsuccessfully
for his return to the union.
Mr. Fitzsimmons was acting president during Mr. Hoffa’s imprisonment and
became president in 1971 when the pardon barred Mr. Hoffa from further
union activity. Mr. Hoffa disappeared in Detroit in 1975 and was
declared dead in 1982.
At Local 299, Mr. Camarata joined with other young leftist Teamsters to
press for more local autonomy. They became affiliated with an
organization on college campuses called International Socialists.
In 1976, to win a better contract in Detroit, Mr. Camarata helped lead a
wildcat strike in which 300 Teamsters managed to cripple the city.
“There wasn’t a truck that moved,” he said in “Detroit Lives,” a 1994
book compiled and edited by Robert H. Mast. “The union bureaucrats were
against us, and we had to fight them, too.”
One result of the strike was his election as a delegate to the national
convention in Las Vegas. After his open defiance there, he was expelled
from the union twice but successfully fought to be reinstated both
times. He told Mr. Mast that he had been threatened physically many times.
A flier, signed by a Local 299 member, alleged that the dissident group
was financed by illegal drug trafficking. The group denied this. The
flier also referred to Mr. Camarata’s weight, explaining his rise to
leadership with the phrase “Fat floats.” (He eventually lost 200 pounds
and was featured in weight-loss publications, his wife said.)
When Mr. Fitzsimmons consigned Mr. Camarata and other dissidents to hell
in 1976, Mr. Camarata had a ready reply: “We’ll meet him wherever he
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