James B. Jacobs


On his book Breaking the Devil’s Pact: The Battle to Free the Teamsters From the Mob

Cover Interview of October 30, 2011


Breaking the Devil’s Pact corrects the “fairy tale” history of the labor movement.

Organized crime figures started penetrating labor unions in the early 20th century. Some early labor leaders, like David Dubinsky, strongly opposed gangsterism in the labor movement. In 1957, the AFL-CIO expelled the Teamsters on account of corruption and racketeering. Eventually, however, opposition (except for a small number of so-called union “dissidents”) all but disappeared until the Department of Justice (DOJ) became involved in the early 1980s.  DOJ’s involvement was precipitated by its goal of eradicating LCN—not by a goal of cleaning up unions.

Breaking the Devil’s Pact contributes to our understanding of union democracy.

Teamsters For a Democratic Union (TDU), the best-organized and largest “dissident organization” in the union movement supported the government’s civil RICO lawsuit against the IBT establishment, but strenuously argued in favor of   a union democracy remedy.

TDU insisted that if the government could ensure free and fair elections, the rank and file would replace gangsters and their cronies with honest and effective union officers.

This is an important hypothesis. Indeed, the same hypothesis appears in foreign policy debates—will free and fair elections bring honest and effective political leaders to power?

Unfortunately, the answer for both unions and nation states is “not always.” Free and fair elections may be a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for good government.

Breaking the Devil’s Pact sheds light on American politics.

On the one hand, there could hardly be a more cynical commentary on American politicians than that, in 1988, almost 300 Congressmen would petition the U.S. attorney general not to bring the rumored civil RICO lawsuit against the IBT on the ground that it would be a blow to a “free and democratic labor movement.”

On the other hand, that five U.S. presidential administrations, both Republican and Democrat, have permitted the lawsuit to continue evidences and reinforces the independence of the U.S. Department of Justice and the supremacy of the rule of law in the United States.