By Bill Bateman
Laborers Local 271
Jan. 11, 2000
THE PROVIDENCE JOURNAL
was not content to let Arthur E. Coia "ride off into the
sunset" in peace. Seeing the president of the Laborers International
Union of North America forced out of office was not satisfaction
enough for the voice of business in Rhode Island. The Journal
had to smugly rub our noses in it and fire off one last unnecessary
pot shot at Arthur Coia's back.
I am a rank and file member
of Local 271 of the Laborers International Union of North America
who read the Journal's editorial "Coia off into the sunset"
on Jan. 3 with disgust. For me it was the straw that broke the
camel's back. After years of observing the Journal's war on the
Coias and the Laborers Union, I feel compelled to speak out.
Since the day I joined the
Laborers Union in 1977, its leaders, Arthur A. Coia, and then
his son, Arthur E. Coia, have been under attack by the Journal
through "news" articles and editorials. During these
past 23 years, I learned what an honest day's work was and I was
able to earn decent pay with health benefits, a retirement plan,
a legal plan and an annuity.
I'm not at all surprised that
the U.S. government found a way to remove Ron Carey as president
of the Teamsters and Arthur E. Coia as president of the Laborers
before the year 2000. Throughout its history, the U.S. government
has always been anti-labor except for brief periods including
the Roosevelt administration. The post-war era began with McCarthyism
with its witchhunts against "communists" in the 50s,
resulting in the ravaging of the most conscious and militant union
leadership in the country. Prosperity bought peace for a generation,
but by 1980, the war was back on. Ronald Reagan was elected president
and PATCO (the air traffic controller's union) was busted in 1981.
For the labor movement, the
1980s and early 1990s were a string of one defeat after another
(Brown and Sharpe, Phelps Dodge, Hormel, Greyhound, International
Paper, Continental Airlines, Detroit News/Free Press, etc.). There
was not much good news on the doorstep. During this period there
were also rollbacks in civil rights, welfare rights and health
Ron Carey and Arthur Coia both
came into their presidencies with the federal government in their
midst. The U.S. government sat in on their executive board meetings
and had access to all their records and communications, thus overriding
workers' inalienable right to sovereignty and self-determination
through their unions. Ironically, they both won government-supervised
elections by their rank-and file members.
But because of their unions'
strategic roles in transportation and construction, and because
of the paths they chose, they were both removed from their elected
posts by the U.S. government. The Teamsters are the lifeblood
of the economy, delivering 80 percent of the shipped goods in
this country. The Laborers are the backbone of major construction
projects in most of our major cities. Both undertook aggressive
organizing campaigns to reach the unorganized. Both of their unions
grew significantly at a time when nonservice-sector unions were
stagnating or losing members. Both had the vision to see that
the character of the working class had changed: Women, immigrants
and people of color were heading toward becoming the majority
of the working class in the United States.
Ron Carey and Arthur E. Coia
committed the crime of including them in their unions, and worse,
undertook vigorous organizing campaigns to reach out to them.
Ron Carey led the Teamsters of United Parcel Service to one of
the biggest labor victories of this generation over the issue
of health and retirement benefits for "temporary" workers.
Arthur E. Coia was named to head the Organizing Department of
the national AFL-CIO. President Clinton also accepted Arthur Coia
into the White House, and worse, he invited him onto the golf
There are parallels between
the Cold War and the war on labor at home. The U.S. government's
post World War II dream of breaking up the Soviet Union was realized,
with the assistance of "reformers" Mikhail Gorbachev
and Boris Yeltsin. Both in the Soviet Union and in our unions,
there were things wrong, yet in each, the cure was worse than
the disease. In the Soviet Union, we now see massive unemployment,
a rise in infant mortality, a dramatic decrease in life expectancy,
an increase in preventable diseases such as TB, a decline in the
quality of public education, and a return to child labor, prostitution
If the U.S. government, Big
Business, and their media accomplices such as the Journal get
their way, those conditions will be even more rampant here in
the United States than they are now. Fortunately, the people's
movements such as the Labor movement are like weeds. You can clip
off a leader, but the roots always grow back. The Journal should
not be so smug and confident over the sun setting on Arthur Coia.
The disruptions at the World
Trade Organization meeting in Seattle were a "shot heard
round the world" invigorating popular movements including
the labor movement. Things aren't always what they seem. Many
of us believe that labor will have the last laugh.
Bill Bateman lives in Providence