Labor Advocate Online

In Memory of Bob Mattingly (Charles Walker)

 

The Passing of a Tough but Gentle Spirit 

by George Saunders, Co-Managing Editor, Labor Standard

 

ROBERT (BOB) RAMON MATTINGLY January 4, 1933 ~ May 27, 2004 Beloved husband of Ethel; dear father of Michele Mattingly of Amherst, Massachusetts, and Shelley DeSantis of Oakley, CA; father-in-law of Guilio DeSantis and grandfather of Anthony DeSantis. Also survived by his brother, Ronald and sister-in-law, Ginger Mattingly. Preceded in death by his parents, Joseph and Tess Mattingly. Member of Teamsters Local 896 for 35 years and Union Business Representative from 1985 to 1988. He dedicated himself to building a democratic labor movement and was a lifelong participant in the struggle for social justice and socialism.—Oakland Tribune

 

(June 7, 2004)—The passing of Bob Mattingly, who mainly wrote under the pen name Charles Walker, is a great loss for Labor Standard and for many in the labor movement who appreciated and looked forward to his frequent, incisive, and well-informed contributions in recent years about the current “state of the unions” in this country.

 

Note: There will be a memorial meeting for Bob, organized by his family, in his hometown of Oakland, California, on June 12, at 1 p.m. at the Chapel of the Chimes, 4499 Piedmont Ave. Memorial messages are welcomed and encouraged: jmackler@locrian. com

Until a few months ago, when he was stricken by a sudden illness that took him from us before his time, Bob was writing almost every week on trade union and working class subjects on his web site Labor Tuesday, and we reprinted many of his articles on the Labor Standard web site. His articles also appeared in the newspaper Socialist Action and the magazine Socialist Viewpoint , and they were widely reposted and/or forwarded on the Internet, including on Bill Onasch’s web site (kclabor.org) and on the web site of U.S. Labor Against the War.

 

Bob’s analysis and criticism of the Southern California grocery strike was especially widely appreciated. On the Labor Standard web site, we carried a separate section entitled “Discussion on the California Grocery Strike,” consisting mainly of Charles Walker articles. Also, the last print edition of Labor Standard featured his important article, “The Great Grocery Strike and the Left.” That issue also contained his article “As GI Deaths Mount, Morale Weakens.”

 

In one of my last phone conversations with Bob, even as he was battling the disease that took his life, he emphasized the point that, as he saw it, the California grocery workers strike was extremely important—as a negative example of how a strike should not be waged. He felt it was just as important, as an example of what not to do, as the 1997 United Parcel Service (UPS) strike had been—but the UPS strike was a positive example of how to mobilize and fight a winning strike. That strike of course was led by former Teamster President Ron Carey.

 

In memory of Bob, we intend to repost on the Labor Standard web site many of his articles, in particular his memorial to IWW leader Vincent St. John. Bob originally called it “What I’m Going to Do for May Day.” He first posted that article in 2002, then again in 2003. (I’ve asked that it be attached and posted together now with this article of mine.)

 

This year, in my last phone conversation with Bob, he told me about visiting the gravestone of “The Saint” this past May Day, a little more than a month ago, together with his wife, daughter, and step-daughter. His wife, Ethel, kindly sent us photos of that occasion. Especially impressive is the photo of the two young women beside Vincent St. John’s gravestone, their fists militantly raised in solidarity with the fighting tradition of the Industrial Workers of the World, founded in 1905, just about 100 years ago.

 

That was the spirit Bob identified with and sought to help revive in any way he could. There’s no doubt that his message to us right now would be, “Don’t mourn. Organize.”

 

Bob chose the pen name Charles Walker, because that was the name of the author of a classic account of the 1934 Minneapolis Teamsters strike. The book was called American City, and has long been out of print. One of the last things Bob mentioned to me was that a reprint edition of American City is expected to appear soon. Bob told me he very much wanted to write a review of the reprint, but sadly, Fate decreed otherwise.

 

To return for a moment to the subject of Ron Carey, Bob had a very high regard for Carey, but he had nothing but scorn for the people “on the left” who failed to defend Carey when the U.S. government interveners in the Teamsters union ousted the former Teamsters president. Some “leftists” even stated or implied publicly that Carey was in some way “guilty,” suggesting that the capitalist government was justified in interfering in the Teamsters union and removing the union’s president, Ron Carey, who had twice been elected by the ranks.

 

Bob was thrilled when Carey finally had his day in court and was exonerated by a jury. Bob edited and posted on his web site an excellent first-hand account by Marilyn Vogt-Downey of the New York City jury trial that cleared Carey’s name. However, the employers’ government was unmoved by the jury’s finding that Carey was not guilty of the charges the government made against him. This wonderfully “democratic” bosses’ government still refuses to allow Ron Carey to be a member of the Teamsters union, let alone run for office again.

 

Bob and I had a small disagreement at first about the government’s ouster of Carey. He thought—or at least initially he expressed the view—that the only thing going on was the intricate process of the judicial system at work in response to shady fund-raising wheeling and dealing by some consultants the Teamsters had hired during Carey’s presidency. Bob didn’t agree, at least at first, with what he considered unproved speculation of the “conspiracy theory” type, that the capitalist class, through the governmental and judicial systems—which the rich and the corporations control by thousands of invisible, and even visible, threads—had made a conscious decision to get rid of Carey.

 

As Frank Lovell and I, and many others, saw it, the employing class consciously decided to remove Carey because they feared the fighting example he had set with his leadership of the 1997 UPS strike. They wanted to be sure the example of that strike would not spread; they wanted to nip it in the bud.

 

Bob admitted there were some grounds for our view, even though he felt it was based on “speculation” rather than hard evidence. He told me something he had heard at that time, when the settlement of the UPS strike was announced in August 1997, with the Teamsters winning their demand for more full-time jobs. Bob told me that the head of UPS said to Carey right when the settlement was announced: “You’re going to pay for this, Ron!”

 

And sure enough, within weeks the government’s judicial system went into action against Carey, eventually ousting him as president and expelling him from the union.

 

Bob told me he had been active for many years as a Teamster union member and as a local officer of the Teamsters in the Bay Area. He was also a longtime activist in Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU). He believed that TDU was an excellent model as a rank-and-file union caucus with a class-struggle outlook, and urged radicals to build similar caucuses in other unions. He also advocated an alliance of all radical currents and groupings, as well as rank-and-file caucuses, to create a conscious and organized left wing in the unions with a class-struggle perspective and the perspective of independent working class political action, that is, a labor party. He rejected the “labor-management cooperation” outlook of most union officials, and believed, as we do, that the tendency of labor bureaucrats to play footsy with the bosses, to make sweetheart deals with management at the expense of the ranks of labor, and to be content with their own inflated salaries, office jobs, and other perks—that that is the main source of the difficulties the union movement faces and has faced for decades.

 

Bob wrote convincingly, providing facts and figures, to make points like this in as many different ways as he could.

 

I first encountered Bob when Frank Lovell, the founding editor of our predecessor magazine, Bulletin in Defense of Marxism, asked me to get in touch with Bob in my capacity as the editor mainly responsible for soliciting articles for the magazine. This was in the early 1990s, not long after the alliance of Ron Carey and TDU had won the election for president of the Teamsters and had a majority on the union’s executive board.  Frank told me that in the Bay Area there was a former member of the Socialist Workers Party who was active in the Teamsters and in TDU and who could probably write some well-informed articles about the new situation in the Teamsters.

 

Bob responded positively to our inquiry, and he was soon writing regularly for our magazine. After a while his contributions became a regular column with the heading “Teamster’s Notebook.” Later Bob expanded the subject matter of his articles, and we began running a series entitled “Labor News Briefs.” After Frank Lovell’s death in 1998, Bob expanded even further, and started his “Labor Tuesday” web site, producing a wide range of material on the union movement almost every week.

 

Bob jokingly blamed me for starting him out as a writer, but as I often meant to tell him, “Don’t blame me, Bob. Blame Frank Lovell.”

 

Bob visited our small group of labor activists in Tucson, Arizona, in 1999, and attended a meeting of the Tucson Labor Party chapter to hear a report and watch a video about the Labor Party’s Pittsburgh convention of November 1998. For the first time I met Bob’s wife, Ethel, only to discover that we knew each other from many years earlier. I had first known her as Ethel Sheppard, part of a group of student radicals in the Boston area who first founded United Socialist Students of Greater Boston in 1958-59 and then started a Boston local of the Young Socialist Alliance in 1960. Among the young activists in that group had been her then-husband, Barry Sheppard, as well as Peter Camejo, Gus Horowitz, and others.

 

There are other conversations I had with Bob that I would like to tell about, and perhaps I will at another time—among them, his account of how he was recruited to the Socialist Workers Party by Carl Feingold, who was a young Los Angeles radical at the time (Bob sent me an unpublished manuscript, a 178-page memoir of Feingold’s life done in interview form shortly before Feingold died in 1993); our discussions about socialist electoral policy and the Ralph Nader campaign of 2000; about the Trade Union Educational League in the United States in the 1920s and the role of William Z. Foster; about the Moscow Frame-Up Trials of 1936-38 and the vicious “legalistic” role of Stalin’s chief prosecutor, Vyshinsky; about Bob’s uneasiness regarding the Cuban government’s trial and imprisonment of U.S.-funded dissidents right around the time that U.S. imperialism began its invasion of Iraq, March-April 2003; and other subjects of interest.

 

But I will close for now by quoting from Bob himself. He told a number of significant things about his own life in the “Brief Note” he wrote in memory of Frank Lovell. It can be found in the book Revolutionary Labor Socialist: The Life, Ideas, and Comrades of Frank Lovell, edited by Paul Le Blanc and Thomas Barrett (Union City, N.J.: Smyrna Press, 2000; copies of the book can be obtained by writing to Labor Standard).

 

Bob wrote, in part: “For ... twenty years I served as a chief shop steward [in the Teamsters union in the Bay Area], and three years before I retired I was elected to head up the union’s Northern California office.” He credited Frank Lovell for encouraging him in his union work.

  

Bob concluded with a telling phrase: “I like to think that Lovell understood that I was a worker who became a socialist, not merely a socialist with a job.”