The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Former Teamsters President cleared of corruption charges... but his ability to lead his union has been destroyed

Oct 22, 2001

On October 2, a federal jury found former Teamsters Union President Ron Carey not guilty on all charges that he had lied to a grand jury. This came out of a federal government investigation into illegal fund-raising in the 1996 Teamsters elections. In the end, the government had only one witness who claimed to have any knowledge that Carey approved of illegal fund-raising – a witness already convicted of other charges and clearly hoping for a reduction in his sentence. The jury didn’t believe him.

Innocent until proven guilty – remember? If this were really a democratic country, Carey never would have been removed from office until AFTER having had his day in court and being found guilty. Instead, even before any charges were filed against him, he was removed from office – an office to which he had been elected by Teamster members.

Carey was removed not because of what he had done in an election he clearly won. He was removed because he had just led a nationwide strike of UPS workers that gained the attention and support of millions of working people all over the country. The strike gained this support for several reasons: First, the UPS strikers demanded that part-time workers be given full-time jobs – a concern for many workers all over the country. Second, the UPS strikers, by holding rallies and talking to other workers, put their strike in front of the whole working class. And third, the strikers forced UPS – which had insisted it wouldn’t give them what they wanted – to give in.

When the UPS bosses granted several of the strikers’ demands, the UPS workers returned to their jobs in triumph. This successful strike stood as an example to other workers – who had hesitated to make fights in recent years.

Significantly, Carey was not faced with any action for his 1996 election until eight months later, but only four days after the strike was successfully concluded.

The fact that Carey could now be acquitted – despite all the money and time put into convicting him – shows what a frameup this case was. And it shows what this case was all about. Carey’s real crime in the eyes of bosses all over this country was that he stood at the head of the UPS strike in contrast to most union leaders today who wouldn’t think of associating themselves with a strike.

By succeeding in such swift, harsh and undemocratic action against him, the government made Carey into an example of what could happen to any other union official who might entertain the idea of leading such a strike: they would face immediate retaliation.

The government’s swift success in removing Carey from office also quickly reversed the small change in the political climate in the country that had been brought about by the success of the UPS strike.

Now Carey is finally freed from the charges. He should have been. But this does not undo the damage done to him, to the UPS workers, the Teamsters and the working class. That damage will not be undone until workers – those at UPS or elsewhere – make a bigger fight, including being ready to protect those who are willing to lead their struggles.