The Dave Beck Project

jackie presser Mainstream dogma paints cars-first transportation in the United States as a product of pristine popular democracy. It is a huge lie, an attempt to divert attention from actual history.

One very interesting aspect of the actual history is the connection between sponsored right-wing labor unions and the imposition of cars-first infrastructure.

Take the case of Dave Beck, the President of the Teamsters union who preceded the infamous Jimmy Hoffa. When Eisenhower asked his old buddy Lucius Clay to head a Presidential Commission to organize automotive-industrial capitalists to ram through the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956, Clay appointed five cronies to what quickly became known as the Clay Committee.

Dave Beck was one of those five appointees.

Mr. Beck’s Wikipedia page makes it rather clear why he was asked to help formulate the plan for completing the last major segment of the cars-first project. Beck, who had risen to power as a successful opponent of political unionism, had impeccable credentials:

In 1937, Beck formed the Western Conference of Teamsters as a means of counteracting the [complacent] leadership of Joint Councils in San Francisco. Beck persuaded Teamsters president Daniel J. Tobin that the Western Conference of Teamsters was no threat to the power and authority of the international union. Harry Bridges, leader of the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA), had led a successful four-day strike in 1934. Bridges was now leading “the march inland”—an attempt to organize warehouse workers away from shipping ports. Beck was alarmed by Bridges’ radical politics and worried that the ILA would encroach on Teamster jurisdictions. But Teamster joint councils in Los Angeles and other California ports seemed unconcerned. As an end run around the complacent joint councils, Beck formed a large regional organization. Beck engaged in fierce organizing battles and membership raids against the ILA, effectively stifling the “march inland.” The Western Conference of Teamsters, and Beck, emerged significantly stronger from these battles.

Beck became Teamsters national president in 1952 and a member of the AFL-CIO Executive Council in 1953 — i.e. right at the pinnacle of the Red Scare. However, by 1957 (a year after the Clay Committee had finished its work with total success), Beck’s history of embezzling from his own union had become a matter of public knowledge. Having reduced the already anemic level of democracy inside the Teamsters union, Beck opted not to seek another term as its head. He was sent to federal prison for tax evasion in 1962.

Such is the stuff of the “labor” voice of the Clay Committee.

Meanwhile, contemplate the way in which Beck ended it all:

After his release from prison, Beck lived in a basement in a house he himself had built for his mother and sister in the 1940s. He retained his $50,000-a-year Teamster president’s pension and became a multimillionaire investing in parking lots.

Parking lots!

I’ll say it again: Orwell couldn’t surpass this real-world material.

Ralph the Small

Ralph Nader, for whom I voted three times, continues to shrink before the issues of the epoch.

Today, he’s on Counterpunch offering his always over-rated strategic counsel to the embattled UAW, which looks like it is going to waste much or all of its $800,000,000 strike fund trying to organize more automobile factories, hoping to revive the glory days of $50,000-plus-bennies.

Ralph seems skeptical of the idea, but dig his proposed alternative: “to set up a small ten person advocacy group in Washington, D.C. to prod OSHA on worker health and safety.”  Wow!  That’ll do the job, won’t it?

Alas, peak oil dictates that the automobile industry is a dying industry, and automotive capitalists are simply not going to cede much, if any, ground back to the UAW.  And, even if this weren’t true, to revive oneself within this industry would be to revive oneself within a rapidly burning house.  So, organizing new car factories or lobbying to resuscitate OSHA are rather silly notions, if they do not come as part of a push to get much larger, soon to be decisive needs onto the agenda of at least what remains of the labor movement.

Hence, the UAW ought to be re-making itself into what it was in the 1930s, namely, the spearhead of a genuinely new day for American labor.  It could do this by demanding an end to the AFL-CIO’s craven cooperation with the bought-and-sold Democratic Party, loudly and proudly calling on the public to start rebuilding our towns and cities around sustainable union-made transportation infrastructures, and saving its strike funds for a general sit-down strike to promote these ends, if not to start opening factories to make 21st-century trains and other urban reconstruction accoutrements.

It ought, meanwhile, to leave quixotic, inadequate, small-reformist, the-billionaires-will-save-us old Ralph to fiddle by himself.