Messages To Bob Mattingly Memorial Meeting

Bill Onasch

To the best of my recollection, I never met Bob in person. But I came to admire and respect him from his writing in Socialist Action and Labor Standard. Bob had a gift for cutting through obfuscation and presenting a keen analysis aimed at workers. He was usually right on the money, in my view.

From time to time we corresponded electronically. There were times when we disagreed—the 2000 Nader campaign and attitude toward the Labor Party, for example. In those cases Bob demonstrated another all too rare gift—he actually listened to and responded to what I said rather than simply turning up the volume while repeating previous declarations. He didn't shift positions quickly or easily but he always paid attention and always maintained a fraternal composure. In other words, he carried himself in the best Cannonist traditions of the American workers movement. I will certainly miss hearing from him.

My best wishes go to his family and comrades.

Paul LeBlanc

I am so glad that comrades are gathering together to honor Bob. I wish I could be with you in person, but am glad that you are asking for comrades from around the country to send messages such as this one.

In his Charles Walker articles for the magazine Bulletin in Defense of Marxism and its successor Labor Standard, as well as other publications such as Socialist Action and Socialist Viewpoint, Bob always seemed to reflect some of the finest and most thoughtful qualities in the labor and socialist movements. He had clearly absorbed some of the best there is in the traditions of American Trotskyism and was able to apply this to current realities in a very insightful and down-to-earth manner.

The immense respect that such a veteran comrade as Frank Lovell had for Bob (Frank talked with him often on the telephone) was the first tip-off to me that it would be worth listening to what such a person had to say. This was confirmed when I was able to read Bob’s outstanding contributions. I am saddened by his passing but am glad to have known him at least a little bit. He continues to live in those who, to the best of their abilities, struggle for social justice and in the interests of the working class.

Dave Riehle

Dear Comrades, Friends, and Family of Bob Mattingly:

I am sorry I cannot be there with you today to remember Bob. I had too few opportunities to meet Bob in person, and knew him mainly through correspondence and, of course, his journalism.

As you know, his writing on the labor movement was enriched by decades of participation in his union and workplace. Workers were not an abstraction to him, when he wrote, and neither was the complicated American labor movement, with both its heroic traditions and its conservative and nationalistic bureaucratic leadership—“lions led by asses,” in John L. Lewis’s unforgettable Biblical paraphrase.

Bob’s careful and balanced analysis of these two poles of American labor, especially as expressed in the Teamsters union, which he knew best, are in the rich tradition of the labor and socialist journalism of James P Cannon, and of course there can be no doubt that for Bob, like others of us who write about our class, there could be no better model to learn from.

I especially appreciated Bob’s unflinching defense of Teamster President Ron Carey, when Carey was framed up by the federal government for his class struggle leadership of the great UPS strike.

Unlike some of Carey’s erstwhile supporters, Bob did not abandon his support of Carey after his indictment, as though Carey was some minor union functionary caught burglarizing a laundromat. He knew what was at stake in the frame-up, he explained it, and he stayed the course. I’m sure the symmetry with the frame-up of an earlier class struggle leadership, the socialist leaders of the Teamsters union here in Minneapolis in 1941, reinforced his instinctive rejection of the judicial mugging of an outstanding union leader.

Bob was, I think, as George Saunders has written in his sensitive obituary of Bob, a gentle warrior. His life demonstrated a harmonious combination of proletarian intransigence and decent and humane relations with other people, and his work enriched the socialist political tradition to which he adhered.

Like many of you present today in remembrance of Bob, he remained confident that our class still holds the key to human progress and a better world. And along with those of you who shared Bob’s convictions, I join you in the belief that there can be no better memorial to a brother and comrade than to soldier on. You all know what Joe Hill told us.