Mobsters, Unions, and Feds: The Mafia and the American Labor Movement

Mobsters, Unions, and Feds: The Mafia and the American Labor Movement

Mobsters, Unions, and Feds: The Mafia and the American Labor Movement

Mobsters, Unions, and Feds: The Mafia and the American Labor Movement


"Jacobs offers a history of the federal government's efforts to curb labor racketeering. The heart of his text focuses on the results achieved by employing Civil RICO suits to weed out organized crime from unions long mired in corruption. The Justice Department has mounted twenty such efforts since 1982, and Jacobs's book is the first to provide a comprehensive assessment of this controversial tactic. He tackles this ambitious project with a combination of detailed research, clear writing, and judicious consideration, all of which have been a hallmark of his previous texts on corruption and organized crime. The result is a must read book for anyone interested in the problem of union corruption and what to do about it." - Industrial and Labor Relations Review

"Jacobs, legal scholar and expert on the Mafia, sets out to show how the Mob has distorted American labor history, explaining the relationship between organized crime and organized labor, as well as recent federal efforts to clean up unions" - Booklist "James Jacobs, a New York University law professor and author of Mobsters, Unions and Feds, says Mafiosi were hired by union organizers in the early twentieth century to combat company toughs. Now, he says, they specialize in 'selling the rights of workers.' " - USA Today "Jacobs further burnishes his reputation for advancing the study of organized crime in America with his latest work of scholarship, billed by the publisher as 'the only book to investigate how the mob has distorted American labor history.' This worthy successor to Gotham Unboundand Busting the Mobis an exhaustive, albeit sometimes repetitive, survey of the grip La Cosa Nostra has exerted on the country's most powerful unions. While many will be familiar with the broad outlines of the corruption that riddled the Teamsters, which is recounted by the author, his summary of some lesser-known examples of pervasive labor corruption help illustrate his thesis that the entire American union movement has suffered from the intimidation and fear the mob used to gain and maintain control of unions. Especially valuable is Jacobs's examination of the relatively recent use of the RICO law to bring dirty unions under the control of a federally appointed independent trustee, and the book's posing of hard questions about the mixed success those monitorships have had." - Publishers Weekly

"Jacobs has covered a wide range of legal issues, including such hot-button topics as hate crime laws and gun control, but he always returns to the world of mobsters and the men and women who investigate, prosecute, and sentence them." - NYU Today

"James Jacobs brilliantly documents and analyzes a remarkable and untold chapter in the history of American law enforcement. This groundbreaking book should be a starting point for officials around the world who confront powerful organized crime groups." - Jeremy Travis, President, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, The City University of New York and former Director, National Institute of Justice

"A pathbreaking work. For 50 years, organized crime has been the elephant in organized labor's living room, unacknowledged and unexplained. Jacobs has critically analyzed every facet of this apparently intractable problem- from its roots to the federal government's various efforts to challenge organized crime's influence. From this point forward, no one can think critically about this problem without relying on Jacobs' work." - Robert Luskin, General Executive Board Attorney, Lab


Labor racketeering is an important example of American exceptionalism. No other country has a history of significant organized crime infiltration of its labor movement, and no other country has an organized crime syndicate with a power base in labor unions. The interrelationship, over most of the twentieth century, between organized crime and organized labor has political, social, and economic consequences that have hardly begun to be explored.

This book is not an exposé. From the early twentieth century, labor racketeering has been an important source of organized crime's power, prestige, and wealth. By “labor racketeering,” I mean the exploitation of unions and union power by organized crime. By “labor racketeers,” I mean Cosa Nostra* (mafia) bosses who wield influence over union officeholders and treasuries, Cosa Nostra capos, soldiers, and associates who hold union offices, and union officials who are closely allied to, and do the bidding for organized crime members. Labor racketeers treat unions like cash cows that generate money via salaries, perks, embezzlement, extortion, bribes, and fraud. They regularly use union power to establish and enforce employer cartels that fix prices, allocate contracts, and suppress competition. For these services they extract payoffs (“dues”) from employer associations. Moreover, they routinely

* Joseph Valachi, an organized crime member who became a cooperating witness in the
1960s, first reported that members of the Italian-American organized crime families re
ferred to their organization as “Cosa Nostra,” which translates as “Our Thing.” This was
consistent with the usage of organized crime members themselves, as revealed in con
versations intercepted during the 1950s. Somehow, the FBI and the media came to use the
term “La Cosa Nostra” (“The Our Thing”), often abbreviated as “LCN.” That name makes
no grammatical sense and is not used by organized crime members. Nevertheless, be
cause it is so widely used in journalistic and scholarly writings, I sometimes refer to Cosa
Nostra as LCN.

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