|Power and Privilege
Louts and the Rat World
by Steven Miller
here are times as a reporter in Nevada when a sudden unexpected peek into someones mind can illuminate a huge expanse of the political landscape.
One such moment came along in May when Nevada Journal was conducting interviews for its June cover story. Documents in our possession suggested that the state agency in charge of occupational safety and health had collaborated in a union vendetta against an open-shop steel erection company. We talked to scores of people, seeking the full flavor of what had happened, and among them were activist members of Iron Workers Union Local 118. That was the local whichafter part of a steel framework had collapsed on a 1993 jobhad vehemently lobbied state officials to find some way to charge the steel contractor with running an unsafe work site. [See "What Happens When State Government Decides to Sandbag a Non-Union Company," Nevada Journal, June, 1998].
With one particular union member, the telephone interview lasted over an hourenough time to make it clear he was not only likable, but a basically humane individual.
All the more striking, therefore, was the casual viciousness of his language.
"They were a rat outfit out of Vegas," he said, talking about the non-union contractor.
The "rat world," he explained, was the realm of non-union work. He himself, he volunteered, had spent years in "the rat world," before being admitted into the union.
By themselves, these "rat" epithetswith their air of nonchalant, guiltless hatreddont seem all that significant. "Mere hyperbole," most people would say, if asked. "Rhetorical overstatement!" a union lawyer would argue, no doubt.
But that would be untrue. If one has ever spent any time attending closely to union-boss statements and behavior, whether here in Nevada or nationally, the note struck in those offhand comments is eerily familiar.
Its that particular notevirtually omnipresent in organized labors statements and behaviorthat says, either explicitly or implicitly, "If you oppose us, you are garbage. And we are morally entitled to destroy you in any fashion we can."
An over-the-top analysis?
Consider the grandiose threat launched against virtually everyone in the country two years ago by AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka:
"Unions are back," he bellowed from a labor convention podium. "Get in our way and well knock you flat on your ass!"
Anyone who knows unions intimately is well-acquainted with this particular notethe attitude of belligerent union types that they are entitled to pulverize anyone who dares to disagree.
Those who only know unions through the filter of the dominant media, however, are less likely to grasp the full extent of the trouble. Since a comment like Trumkas is almost comically crude, the most natural responseafter raised eyebrows, perhapsis probably to just mentally peg it as the bluster of some stupid lout.
But while Trumka is indeed a lout, he is not a stupid one. A lawyer and leftist ideologue who advocates government-managed approaches to universal health care, job safety, wages, schooling, "work place dignity" and retirement planning, Trumka was aiming for union office even when a college student. Elected president of the United Mine Workers at age 33the youngest in the organizations historyhe then devoted his subsequent 13 years with the UMW to attempting to crush people seen as in his or the unions way. As Investors Business Daily observed earlier this year, Trumka, during his years with the miners union, consciously "resurrected the worst features of the UMWs riotous past."
During Trumkas biggest victory, the violent 1989-90 strike against the Pittston Coal Company in Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky, he presided over a virtual blitzkrieg of lawbreaking. Coal-truck drivers, company personnel and family members were shot at, stoned and found their tires destroyed and vehicles bombed. Union bullies even threatened a federal judge and rocked his wifes car. State police and federal marshals made 3,600 arrests.
Eugene H. Methvin, who served on the 1983-86 Presidents Commission on Organized Crime, directing its investigation of labor-management racketeering, called Trumkas UMW a "college of lawlessness and violence."
Methvin notes that, after a Virginia judge had enjoined the UMW to stop its mass picketing and violence, that same judge, during the next eight months, issued eight contempt citations listing at least 323 violations, including 204 violent ones, and levied $67 million in fines.
When Trumpka and the UMW appealed the fines, wrote Methvin in National Review, "A unanimous Virginia Supreme Court backed [the judge] up, declaring: Union officials took active roles in these unlawful activities. Notwithstanding the large fines, the Union never represented to the court that it regretted or intended to cease its lawless actions. To the contrary, the utter defiance of the rule of law continued unabated."
And that defiant contempt for the rule of law remained explicit UMW counsel even after the strike. During the Pittston war, one Eddie Burke had been chief strike strategist for Trumka, and after the strike produced a written analysis of the bloody victory. "If any union plans on striking their [sic] employer in this day and age," wrote Burke, "and is uncertain as to breaking laws that are on the books, my advice is not to strike." Lawlessness, he thus acknowledged, is part and parcel of modern union strike strategy.
Burke later went on to apply his abominable tactics in the 1995-1997 Detroit newspaper strike. Not surprisingly, there also the unions waged a war of terrorismhomes shot into and splattered with paint bombs, cars smashed in driveways and tire-puncturing star nails scattered everywhere on the streets of Detroitwith complete indifference to the law. And once again, union thugs explicitly claimed a moral entitlement to injure their adversaries. For example, one Teamster "negotiator" standing outside a newspaper printing plant was recorded by TV news cameras proclaiming, "Well do everything we can to stop the papers from coming out. If the law says we cant stop the trucks, then the law is wrong."
"Altogether," wrote Methvin, "the unions staged some 40 sieges, riots and midnight strikes at the papers two printing plants and 20 distribution centers. They formed human walls to prevent ingress and egress; attacked people and cars trying to pass in or out; wielded clubs, sticks, iron bars, tire-puncturing starnails and jackrocks, bombs, and Molotov cocktails."
Nevertheless, in the Detroit newspaper strike, union terror-tactics failed. And after the newspaper strike had whimpered to a close in February 1997, Eddie Burke moved on to take a post as special assistant to Teamster President Ron Carey. Later it was revealed that Carey and some of his aides had embezzled about $1 million worth of union members dues in an effort to secure Careys re-election. It was just one more case, among an apparent infinity, where union officials anoint themselves as privileged specimens of the human race, exempt from the legal rules that ensure civil society.
These cases from outside Nevada put explicitly on the record the widespread certitude among present-day unionisms true believers that their cause, should they so choose, entitles them to commit crimes.
Here within the Silver State the recorded statements, usually, are not so explicit. But decades of union lawbreaking in the state, right up to the present hour, do show that the same unionist conceits reign here.
For examplereturning to our telephone conversation with the iron workerjust a few weeks before the steel collapse, Local 118 had elected to ignore a standing federal court order and erect an illegal picket line at the Chris Crane Co. job site.
Then after the steel erection firm had won a federal court order ordering Local 118 to end the illegal picketing, midnight vandals descended on the same job site. Ignoring the property of 14 other subcontractors, they did $25,000 worth of sabotage to Chris Crane Co. equipment.
That same kind of casual viciousness was also evident in a flood of rumors someone spread within Local 118 membership about the Las Vegas firm.
Even though State Industrial Insurance System figures show Chris Crane Co. had by far the best safety record of any steel construction firm in the state, union workers were told, according to our interviewee, that the "rat outfit" from Las Vegas was lethally dangerous.
"Im not sure," he continued, "but they [Chris Crane] also hadsomebody told me they hada bunch of guys, a few guys, die off of a scaffold that came down or something, someplace."
"Who told you that?," NJ asked. "Do you remember?"
"Nonot a clue," he said.
In the course of doing the story, Nevada Journal came across many other defamatory allegations that had been, usually anonymously, leveled against the company. All of them, upon further investigationeither by us or the state Occupational Safety and Health Enforcement Sectiondid not hold up. All appeared to originate with Local 118 iron workers, and in each case the intent seemed to be to mortally injure Chris Crane Co.
One source in a position to know suggested the culture inside the iron workers union encourages members to say virtually anything to damage non-union workers and employers.
He was the owner of a structural iron company that was both union-shop and a competitor of the Chris Crane Co. Nevertheless, he said, he didnt know whether to believe what his union-shop employees had told him about the steel mishap.
"Im not positive [what I was told] is what happened," he said, "because guys like to make things a little bit more than they were. You know what I mean?
"And," he continued, "my guys were union; these guys were non-union. So anything that they could say bad about them, theyre going to say.
"The union itselfthe iron worker business agent, and the iron workersare going to ream a non-union guy every chance they get, you know."
What emerges at last, then, is the likelihood that our Local 118 conversationalist was telling us more than he knew.
He indicated he had left one worldthe "rat world"to enter the world of what the union calls "professional iron workers." But his nonchalant invective says more. It suggests that his entering of the union world exacted a cost, and that cost had to do with the severing of some ties between his and our common humanity.
And when we assemble everything discussed above about union attitudes, union lawbreaking and union culture it seems that easily could have been the case.u
Steven Miller is Managing Editor of Nevada Journal.