by Henry Zeiger
The title of Bob Fitch's piece in the last
issue of Hard Hat News, "Money talks, Coia walks," summarizes
Fitch's conclusions - a simplistic view of a more complicated
matter. Without condoning every action taken by the people Coia
hired to clean up LIUNA, it doesn't seem that the fix was in from
Herman Benson observes in a recent issue
of Union Democracy Review that what is peculiar about the more
serious charges leveled at Coia, is that all of misdeeds occurred
in the period "before the consent agreement and before he
had agreed to the current cleanup process." [Italics in original].
Further, Benson notes, the government which instigated this consent
agreement knew about Coia's actions or inactions and chose to
move ahead with the process Coia proposed.
Luskin, the prosecutor, takes a stern view
on all this. Vaira, the judge, said in effect, "Wait a minute.
What else could he do?" Maybe Luskin is correct, maybe Vaira,
maybe neither, but it doesn't seem to be the case that Luskin
and Vaira entered into a conspiracy with Coia, the Justice Department
and White House to whitewash LIUNA. Luskin and Vaira do disagree
about what view to make of what Coia did or didn't do.
Fitch views the fact that LIUNA paid both
Luskin and Vaira as very suspicious. He thinks that this money
proves that the process is a charade. We live in a world where
lawyers charge lots of bucks for their work-good, bad or indifferent.
That may not be a wonderful thing and this may not be a wonderful
world, but it is the way the world wags. It's not peculiar to
Much of the attention focused on Coia and
LIUNA stemmed from a Republican effort to link Coia to Clinton
and use that link to tarnish the labor movement's furnishing money
and other resources to the Democrats. But even the grand inquisitor,
Kenneth Starr, turned away from the Coia-Clinton link in his impeachment
document. Fitch goes further than Starr ever did,
Without going into laborious detail, it's
worth examining some examples of Fitch's reaching foregone conclusions.
Fitch notes that Coia allowed mob guys to attend his father's
funeral. Everyone admits that Coia, Sr. was closely associated
with these people. For Coia, Jr. to tell his father's pals that
they couldn't come to the funeral would have been viewed by them
as a calculated insult-a lack of respect. Bigger guys than Arthur
Coia have been whacked for not showing proper respect. It might
have been an heroic act for Coia to tell the Chicago mob to stay
away from this funeral, but most mere mortals would look the other
Fitch also uncovered the news that Luskin,
before he was hired by Coia, received a large sum in gold bars
to defend a member of the Patriarca crime family. Mob guys do
not always observe normal banking procedures. If your guy is found
guilty and goes to the can, he may not be inclined to pay. It's
prudent to get something up front in whatever form he can furnish
Fitch is on firmer ground when tells us that
Coia shouldn't have associated with a Chicago mob boss, Vincent
Solano. But again, this was prior to Coia's becoming LIUNA president,
prior to government intervention, prior to any cleanup. And it's
very old news. The government knew about it when they passed on
taking over LIUNA.
Herman Benson comments: "If sanctions
should be taken against Coia now, even up to his removal, for
appeasing the mob in the days before the consent agreement, then
the whole leadership of the union, from top to bottom, obviously
was guilty of the same offense."
The reform process in LIUNA has been imperfect.
It has not produced a wonderful, clean, entirely democratic union.
It has produced a union where opposition candidates are not beaten
within an inch of their life at conventions, where the union's
presiding officer does not associate with guys with guns in their
pockets, and where the members will in the future elect their
international officers by direct vote. Limited progress, granted,
but progress, nevertheless. Given LIUNA:s sordid past what reform
system would have worked better?
Fitch seems to share a common illusion that
somewhere over the rainbow there are prosecutors, trustees, lawyers
that will transform the union and make everything shiny, new
and wonderful. That has not happened in any of the government-supervised
takeovers. Lawyers can't run unions. FBI men don't know beans
about unions. Prosecutors can't manufacture heroes.
An informed, militant, organized membership
simply does not exist in LIUNA. A few tinkling pianos and several
isolated, honest business agents, are no substitute for a widespread
organization such as Teamsters for a Democratic Union that spent
years propagating its views.
There is now a possibility in LIUNA for members to create an organization to advance their collective interests. That opportunity wasn't there before Coia instituted his imperfect efforts at reform. To expect more from some miraculous government intervention is to demonstrate a lack of contact with the always imperfect world we inhabit.