Friday, October 21, 2011

Union movement founded on violence, steeped in corruption

"...let's take these son-of-a-bitches out ...." — Jimmy Hoffa referring to the Tea Party during a speech at a Labor Day rally.

"A defiant Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa insisted Tuesday that he would 'never apologize' for his heated comments against the tea party movement."  —

Of course Jimmy Hoffa, leader of the Teamsters Union, would refuse to back off of his statement.

This brings up the memories of the violence associated with the union movement.   Even Hoffa's father went missing and is presumed to be the victim of a mob hit.

This is a brief history of the union movement in the United States.

The union movement got start around 1869.   Railroads, steel, and coal mining employed large numbers of unskilled and skilled laborers.   Workers historically organized along trades.  For example, locomotive engineers organized into their own "brotherhoods".

The American Federation of Labor (AFL) started as one such union of skilled workers.  The Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) was the opposite.  It organized industries rather than skills and trades.

Unions were benign until radicals gained control.  One of those was Eugene V. Debs, who was once a locomotive driver until 1875.  Then he turned socialist.   Debs engineered the infamous Pullman strike of 1894.  He was not directly involved in the strike against the railroad car manufacturer in Chicago, but he organized an associated strike in the Western U.S.   The president called in troops to restore order.  As a result, Debs, was sent to prison for violating  a court order.

Debs went on to serve another term in prison for sedition.  He formed the Socialist Party and ran for president while sitting in a prison cell.

According to, "Debs is best known for tireless campaigning and passionate oratory that made audiences feel guilty for not being more radical; he did not originate any new ideas or policies. Debs believed capitalism, with all its works, was evil, and Socialism, with all its promises, a true panacea." (read more ...)

In 1952, John F. Kennedy initially gained fame in U.S. Congress by launching  "...relentless attacks on corrupt labor leaders, especially Jimmy Hoffa of the Teamsters Union," according to

Hoffa (the father) was sent to prison for bribery and misuse of union funds.  He was pardoned by President Richard Nixon.   In 1975, Hoffa, who was purported to have ties to the mob, disappeared.

This reporter's first look at unions was in 1973, when my editor sent me to cover a bus drivers' strike meeting in San Antonio.   Suddenly, my view of unions changed.   The country was in a fuel and energy crisis.  The union decided to use the squeeze on commuters to ask for a raise.  Ridership had been declining for years.   The bus driver pay raise and subsequent rate hikes only continued the downward spiral of ridership.

San Antonio had a thriving meat-packing industry in the late 1960's.   The unionization of workers drove the meat packers into more profitable centers such as Omaha, Nebraska.  Meat packing was a large employer in Fort Worth, Texas, too.   All that is left is rubble.

Farrah, a men's clothing manufacturer, was run out of San Antonio with constant strikes and union activities including violence. (read more ...)  Farah eventually moved all of its operations and jobs to Mexico.

I covered many union "events" organized by the a segment of city  workers in San Antonio.  The union leader was a man I can never forget.  His name was Henry Munoz.  They called him The Fox.  I had the experience of standing outside a union hall on the west side of San Antonio listening through the door to The Fox talking to his minions.

Union demands, work rules, and pay demands cause more unemployment
Workers need bailouts after forcing plants to close

In Waco, Texas, the General Tire and Rubber Co. operated an aging tire plant.  The plant was a major employer in Waco for decades.  In 1970's, the union struck for wage increases.   The company was forced to close the plant, which has stood vacant for more than 30 years.  That section of Waco, the east side, stands as one of the poorest areas of Texas.   One worker I know lost his job at General Tire and moved to Paris, Texas, to work for Campbell Soup Company making soup.

Union racketeering and violence has always been part of the union movement.  Are unions still violent and corrupt?

"Most people don't know just how many crimes are committed every year through which union officials hurt their own members. The number of reputed and verified crimes is staggering. Nothing illustrates this more clearly than the hundreds of indictments of union officials for violations of the Labor Management and Reporting Disclosure Act. According to the Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS), those crimes include “embezzlement, filing false reports, keeping false records, destruction of records, extortionate picketing and deprivation of rights by violence.” -- The Center for Union Facts,

In the 1970's I covered the aftermath of violence at an insulation plant in Belton, Texas.  After weeks of an ineffectual efforts to organize workers at the plant, someone firebombed the plant's administration office.   I drove to the office and talked to the manager who I had interviewed a few weeks earlier.  The windows were smashed and fires had scorched the sides of the building.

The manager, who looked ashen-faced, handed me a prepared press released and refused to comment. I walked across the street and talked to a group of people holding signs.   A leader stepped up and identified himself as being from Detroit.

We chatted casually about the strike and the cause of the strike.  Then I asked if someone in his union was responsible for the firebombs thrown overnight.

"If you put that in the paper, we are going to come after you!" he responded.  He tone and demeanor became very abusive.  The story did run in the paper, and I am still here.

For the most part, the news media has been very kind to unions.   But when the reporters ask the "wrong" questions, that cordiality ends very quickly, I found that day.

If you have any stories of union violence, threats, or intimidation, please respond to this blog.  I would love to hear it.

The liberal wing of the Democratic Party and the union movement have been joined at the hip for the earliest days.  That explains why Barrack Hussein Obama refused to condemn Hoffa's threatening rhetoric.

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