To the editors:
Michael Miner opted to do a cutesy bit in Hot Type on January 3 when he commented on the victory of reform-candidate Ron Carey, who won over entrenched Leadership in the Teamsters.
Instead of interviewing dissident Teamsters in Chicago, he chose to list the Italianate names of many Teamster leaders and their a/k/a nicknames, and wondered aloud if Ron Carey had one. The names were from a federal indictment which never went to trial. The court-supervised and directed election which resulted in Carey's win was part of the out-of-court settlement by which the Teamsters avoided yet another racketeering trial. So, the indictment which Miner wrote about was old news.
Miner did interview Tom Geoghegan, whose best-selling Which Side Are You On? paid much tribute to Teamster dissidents fighting for decent local unions. Geoghegan argued that the then upcoming Teamster election might do more to help union dissidents than another government-trusteeship and monitoring of the Union. He seems to have been proven correct, but Miner failed to pursue that obvious angle for a lighter feature.
Here was the biggest domestic union story in a decade, and to my knowledge the local press never really localized the Carey victory. Carey headed up a big UPS Local in the East, and UPS is a large Teamster employer in Chicago. The real story in the Teamster victory is how the 10,000 member Teamsters for a Democratic Union, which worked for Carey, was able to win out in a 1.5 million-person union. Also why did only 30 percent of the voters eligible actually cast ballots?
Had this story occurred in the crumbling Soviet Union, it would have made headlines. The American readers were treated to long post-election stories about the Sandinista defeat in Nicaragua, but didn't discuss American dollars which helped lead to Sandinista defeat. I think the press doesn't care, because the moguls of the media don't really care about democracy in unions, because it's easier to make "sweetheart deals" with corrupt union leaders.
Presuming Miner read Geoghegan's book, he would realize that half the book was devoted to efforts to democratize unions internally. Some of the reviews I read ignored that point entirely and spent too much time contrasting Geoghegan's yuppified background to what they considered "slumming" in the Labor movement. This was a disservice to Geoghegan and his book, and I think Miner could have pursued this angle in his brief interview with Geoghegan.
Apparently our reporters have no trouble getting interviews with Muscovites standing in food lines, but they can't seem to "talk Teamster" in Chicago. If the labor scene were covered better, the unions might be singing less the "Talking-Union Blues."
Chicago Teachers Union