In Memory of Bob Mattingly
The Passing of a Tough but Gentle Spirit
(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.
few months ago, when he was stricken by a sudden illness that took him from us
before his time, he was writing almost every week on these 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 and on the
web site of U.S. Labor Against the War. Bob’s analysis
and criticism of the
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
In memory of Bob, we intend to repost on our 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.
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 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 is, “Don’t mourn. Organize.”
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
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
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
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 idea—that the only thing going on was that the intricate process of the judicial system was 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—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 this point 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.”
visited our small group of labor activists in
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; 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.
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 (
wrote, in part: “For… twenty years I served as a chief shop steward [in the
Bay Area Teamsters union], and three years before I retired I was elected to
head up the union’s
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.”