[Editor's note: The following is the second installment of FrontPage's new series, "Union Gangsters." In this profile, award-winning investigative reporter Matthew Vadum unmasks Big Labor kingpin Richard Trumka, whose dirty agitation tactics have earned him the moniker "thug-in-chief." To read about union consigliere Craig Becker, click here.]
Richard Trumka is a thug's thug, and a crafty one at that.
The AFL-CIO boss believes the end justifies the means. Breaking the law is acceptable if it advances the cause. Unions should “forget about the law; this is about more than that,” he said at the “Future of Unions” roundtable in Detroit on April 7.
Like many union leaders, occasionally the slippery Trumka pretends to like capitalism. He supports vigorous enforcement of intellectual property rights, not because he actually believes in them, but because his members work in industries that depend on their enforcement. Turning a blind eye to the manufacture of counterfeit machine parts could put union members out of work.
But unlike most high-profile leftists, Trumka doesn’t even make an effort to conceal his radicalism. “Being called a socialist is a step up for me,” he told Bloomberg News in June. In 1994, Trumka proudly accepted the Eugene Debs Award named after the five-time presidential candidate and labor organizer who founded the Socialist Party of America.
As an AFL-CIO executive, Trumka helped to create “Union Summer,” a program for training young people as organizers and political activists. Participants were made to recite a pledge called “Working Class Commitment” that included the Marxist idea “that we [union workers] produce the world’s wealth ... [and] will end all oppression.”
Trumka, a mine worker-cum-lawyer, admits he got involved in “the labor movement not because I wanted to negotiate wages,” but “because I saw it as a vehicle to do massive social change to include lots of people.” As he's climbed the ranks of AFL-CIO leadership, Trumka has moved away from his modest roots. His 2011 compensation package at AFL-CIO totaled $293,750, according to LM-2 disclosure forms on file with the U.S. Department of Labor. Trumka apparently lives in a four-bathroom house assessed at $747,650 in Rockville, MD, a suburb of Washington, D.C.
He helped to turn the AFL-CIO away from boosting wages and improving working conditions. Now, the labor federation focuses on recruiting government workers who benefit from higher tax rates and bigger government, a growing constituency within the Democratic Party. The federation also blackmails employers by generating adverse publicity, harassing investors, and linking arms with the media and radical activists.
While at the helm of the AFL-CIO, Trumka helped repeal a longtime rule that banned Communists and fellow-travelers from leadership positions in the organization and its unions. The move to open the previously patriotic union to subversives delighted the Communist Party USA. “The radical shift in both leadership and policy is a very positive, even historic change,” CPUSA National Chairman Gus Hall said in 1996.
Trumka bears more than a passing resemblance to legendary gangster Al Capone, who ruled Chicagoland with an iron fist during the Prohibition Era.
Like Capone, Trumka stays close to his politicians. Trumka brags about his coziness with the Obama administration. “I’m at the White House a couple times a week – two, three times a week,” he said. “I have conversations every day with someone in the White House or in the administration. Every day.” Soon after being inaugurated, President Obama named Trumka to his Economic Recovery Advisory Board, which is akin to inviting an arsonist to advise on fire safety.
Both Capone and Trumka share an irredeemable corruptness. Capone bought and sold politicians by the dozen, while Trumka has on more than one occasion refused to cooperate with investigations into union corruption. Trumka indicated that he would have invoked the Fifth Amendment if he had been subpoenaed by Congress to testify about money-laundering schemes in 1998. His boss, John Sweeney, covered for him instead.
And like Capone, whose enforcer, Frank Nitti, educated Saul Alinsky in mob management techniques, Trumka uses violence and intimidation to work his will. (My book, Subversion Inc., details the sordid story of Alinsky and Nitti.)
Violence was commonplace when Trumka was president of the AFL-CIO-affiliated United Mine Workers of America from 1982 to 1995. In 1993, he told Illinois UMW members to “kick the shit out of every last” worker who violated the sanctity of his picket lines. Union goons damaged homes, fired gunshots at a mining company’s office, and killed the power supply for a mine, stranding 93 miners below ground.
After a UMW member shot and killed non-union worker Eddie York, eight UMW strikers threw rocks at security guards who came to check on the victim. Trumka not only refused to discipline the hoodlums, but used a metaphor to justify their behavior. “[I]f you strike a match and put your finger in, common sense tells you you’re going to burn your finger,” he said.
Trumka fought a lawsuit filed by York’s widow for four years and then abruptly settled out of court. The legal bargain came when federal prosecutors announced they planned to release evidence from the trial of Jerry Dale Lowe, who was previously convicted on conspiracy and weapons charges related to York’s murder.
Trumka encouraged and approved acts of violence by UMW strikers during a labor dispute in the late 1980s. As Virginia Circuit Court Judge Donald McGlothlin, Jr. declared, “The evidence shows beyond any shadow of a doubt that violent activities are being organized, orchestrated and encouraged by the leadership of this union.”
Of course President Obama is eager to help Trumka push his violent past down the memory hole. The White House website states that in 1990 Trumka received the Labor Responsibility Award from the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change “[b]ecause he consistently utilized non-violent civil disobedience throughout” strikes. Yasser Arafat’s claim to the Nobel Peace Prize enjoys roughly the same moral legitimacy.
It seems doubtful that Trumka could have gotten away with his shenanigans on the national stage in Capone’s day. But unlike in the Roaring Twenties, today there’s no Eliot Ness to go after Trumka. President Obama would never hire such an investigator and cross such an important friend and political ally.
Trumka has reciprocated by vilifying Obama’s adversaries, including the Tea Party movement that aims to restore fiscal responsibility to government. Sounding like crackpot actress Janeane Garofalo, Trumka says anti-Obama sentiment among voters may be blamed on “right-wing race-haters” who “just can’t get past the idea that there’s something wrong with voting for a black man.”
In the upcoming presidential election cycle, Trumka claims AFL-CIO will be more independent of Democrats because lawmakers in that party haven’t completely implemented Big Labor’s agenda.
“We’re going to use a lot of our money to build structures that work for working people,” he said. “You’re going to see us give less money to build structures for others, and more of our money will be used to build our own structure.”
Trumka is establishing a so-called super PAC that will allow AFL-CIO to pump limitless quantities of cash into politics. The goal is obviously to make sure the Democratic Party and President Obama don’t move rightward during election season next year.
For all we know, Obama told Trumka to do it.