Mar 17, 2014
Pete Camarata, a long-time militant in the Teamsters union, recently died of cancer. He was only 67 years old.
Pete was active in the big Detroit local of the IBT, and played a leading role in a wildcat strike by drivers in 1976 that pushed the trucking companies back. As a result of his activity in the strike, he was elected a delegate to the IBT convention in Las Vegas. That convention became notorious – in part because then IBT President Frank Fitzsimmons declared, “To those who say it is time to reform this organization, and it’s time officers stopped selling out their members ... I say to them, ‘Go to hell!’”
Fitzsimmons’ thugs followed up that declaration by beating up Pete Camarata because he had dared to take the floor of the convention and oppose Fitzsimmons. And Pete was told by police in that mobbed-up town, “Get out of town buddy, and get out fast.”
In the years that followed, he ran against Fitzsimmons for IBT president, helped to organize Teamsters for a Democratic Union, then supported Ron Carey who was elected IBT president on a reform slate, backed by the TDU. He never stopped being active inside his union.
For years he was active in the left of this country, and he was ready to support others who fought. For example, during the 1987 Blue Cross strike, when its leader was being attacked as a communist, and when the tops of the UAW were trying to shut down the strike, he organized a convoy of trucks to roll slowly around the whole Blue Cross building, blowing their horns, in effect setting up a roving picket line – delighting the women on the picket line. And when the leader of that strike and other militants of the Spark initiated an election campaign the next year, “Workers Against Concessions,” calling for a vote to show working class opposition to the sacrifices being imposed by the bosses, he gave his name in support of the campaign.
In an interview he gave to Robert H. Mast in 1991, Pete characterized himself this way:
“I end up being the double dissident. I’m dissident inside the Teamsters, and then I’m dissident inside the TDU. I guess through my experiences in 1976 and the understanding of how important rank-and-file organization is, I end up being on the left fringe of feeling that the organization’s major priority has to be in building at the grass roots.
“There’s always a tendency in the TDU kinds of organizations to say, ‘If we can get this guy elected to office, we’ll democratize our local and the TDU network will grow.’ The sad answer is that it doesn’t work. It’s happened over and over again where you’ll get your best people to organize for TDU and they get elected to local office, they’ll be so overwhelmed by just trying to keep their head above water being a local officer that TDU disappears.”
Anticipating retirement he said, “I’d like to go to work for the TDU, and organize full-time and build some worker fight-back all over the country. Then, too, I think it’s my job as a person with socialist ideas to spread those ideas to other people.”