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July/August 2004 • Vol 4, No. 7 •

Bob Mattingly (1933-2004):
Revolutionary Class Struggle Militant

By Nat Weinstein

Bob Mattingly, who wrote under the pen-name of Charles Walker for nearly every issue of Socialist Viewpoint and for several other working-class and socialist publications, died on May 27. He also wrote for this magazine in his own name.

Bob was known to his readers as a champion of the working class and its unions, and to his co-workers in the Teamsters Union as a natural leader of workers. Readers respected him for his thoughtful articles on trade-union problems, and his co-workers respected him for his loyalty and leadership whenever problems that needed to be resolved arose on the job. In the course of their adversarial relations with their employer, Bob’s co-workers knew that they could count on Bob being on their side and that he would most likely come up with the best way of dealing with these problems.

But whatever the case, he listened just as carefully to what others had to say and willingly supported the best course of action they could collectively decide to take.

Moreover, as readers gathered from his writing—and as his co-workers knew from their day-to-day relations with Bob on the job and in their union—he was not only a critic of the class-collaborationist politics of the labor officialdom, he also practiced the principled class-struggle political polices that he preached. In this regard, too, Bob served all who knew and worked with him on the job, in the Teamsters Union and beyond, as a model of principled working-class leadership.

Another reason for the great respect held by those who really knew Bob, especially important to his comrades and co-workers, is that he would never ask others to do what he would not do himself. And in line with the moral and political principles that have guided history’s revolutionary rank-and-file workers’ leaders, Bob understood that whether it was in performance of the tasks necessary to effectively organize a picnic, or a strike, Bob always stood ready to do his part—and do it right.

In the last year of his life, Bob came to the realization that one of the most urgent immediate tasks facing the small but precious minority of class-conscious union militants in today’s labor movement, was the ever-increasing urgency of the need for an alternative to the class-collaborationist mis-leadership that presently rides herd over the AFL-CIO. And it is no secret that the living standards of all American workers—not only the organized, but the unorganized as well—have suffered a serious decline over the last several decades.

Bob also understood that how well their unions successfully defend their members’ living standards affects the unorganized workers as well. Thus, as union members’ living standards rise or decline, so do the living standards of the much larger majority who are not represented by trade unions.

In September 2003, inspired by a report that had appeared in Labor Notes, a monthly publication issued by a loose collection of rank-and-file trade-union militants, Bob wrote a piece for his readers in the publications that published his contributions, including the one you are reading now. (Labor Notes provides a very useful medium through which union militants can exchange experiences.)

In his article, “Former Sweeney Aide Calls for an Organized Left-Wing, (see Socialist Viewpoint, November 2003, Vol. 3, No. 10), writing under the byline of “Charles Walker,” Bob noted that Bill Fletcher, a former aide to AFL-CIO president, John J. Sweeney, “has proposed that organized labor needs an organized left-wing: and, moreover, that left-wing needs ‘a vision of a different USA, and indeed a different world.’” Walker went on to further describe the meaning and significance of the Fletcher proposal:

Fletcher argued that much of the fight to organize workers during the Great Depression years was also a fight for a larger demand, popular democracy…. But the start of those struggles mustn’t be left to grassroots spontaneity….

“Too many of us today,” he asserted, “act as if we need no such organization and no such vision.” Drawing on labor experiences during the 1930s, Fletcher stressed that, “What the organized left brought to the pre-CIO period was not simply trade union strategy but a connection between what was going on in the trade union movement and what was taking place in other movements.” One of the organizations that Fletcher mentioned briefly that brought a vision of a different USA to the labor movement was the Trade Union Educational League (TUEL), principally led by William Z. Foster, a veteran labor organizer.

From that time on, Bob campaigned through his writing, and by individually agitating his friends inside the labor movement, whom he had collaborated with over the years, to join him in making such a class struggle left-wing united front a reality.

Unfortunately, the very human Bob Mattingly died before he could see such a project begin to take shape. And as painful as his final months and days were, he fought with all his remaining strength to stick around long enough to see the long retreat of the American and world working class come to an end. Moreover, we know he wanted to continue to play his part in helping construct the kind of class-struggle left wing that would not only halt the unending series of setbacks and defeats, but one that would also begin a mass working-class counter-offensive that would not stop with regaining all that has been lost in the last several decades, but would carry the struggle of his class to a final victorious conclusion over the world capitalist adversary.

And those of us who knew Bob also know that he too believed that that day of final reckoning would be more than a victory for the working class over capitalist exploitation and oppression, but also a final victory for the entire human race.

Bob believed that a victory would mean the achievement of a world without social, economic and political injustice and all other manifestations of “man’s inhumanity to man”—that is, a much better world, a socialist world!





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