Labor’s Roller-Coaster Ride

Labor’s Roller-Coaster Ride

Two years into the Sweeney era, the American labor movement seems to have found its own rather rocky rhythm: victory, disaster, victory, disaster. In late summer, the stunning success of the Teamsters strike at United Parcel Service was followed by guilty pleas from three top officials of the scandal-rocked campaign of Teamsters president Ron Carey. In November, labor’s watershed victory over the administration’s fast-track proposal was followed, just one week later, by the ruling from retired federal judge Kenneth Conboy barring Carey from seeking reelection. One week after that, Carey went on a “temporary, unpaid leave of absence.”

It is not to make light of the growing Carey scandal to note that this distinctive Sweeney-time rhythm is vastly preferable to the pattern of events in Lane Kirkland’s era: decline, disaster, decline, disaster. The comparison is not as gratuitous as it first may seem, since the erstwhile Kirkland apparatchiks—largely forgotten but not altogether gone since they lost control of the AFL-CIO in 1995—are using the Carey scandal both to assault the Sweeney regime and paint a glowing and unrecognizable picture of its predecessor.

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Lima