A sample chapter:
Sweat was beaded on the Rev. Jesse Jackson's head at the lunch-time rally for dock workers in Jacksonville across the road from the Titus Regional Center. “You know what the song says: Low pay! No say! I say, Be union and be free! Now I want you to repeat after me. Be Union and be free!” he shouted in his rhythmic delivery. Words that hung round and rich in the humid air.
The crowd, mostly black, chanted back: “Be union and be free.”
“The boss, who's dipping in our pockets, says the Truckers are crooked. And we say:”
“Be union and be free!” they chanted along with him.
“The boss, who don't give you that hospital insurance you and your loved ones need, says Tommy K just wants your dues. And we say:”
“Be union and be free.”
“The boss says, you don't need no outsider getting you more money in your paycheck, hang with him and be happy with a nickel raise. And we say:”
“Be union and be free.”
“I got Tommy K with me today. And he's going to say a few words.”
“Thank you Rev. Jackson. You can say more in five minutes than I can say in an hour.” Jesse Jackson gave him a big grin and nodded. Tommy continued: “Brothers and sisters, we know you don't have much time for lunch so I'll get right to the point. We're distributing union cards with pens. So you can join right now. You join the Truckers and you become the union. You want a raise and if the boss can afford it, we'll get it together. If he won't give it willingly, we'll take it through the power of workers united. Now there's sandwiches and bottled water and coffee for the folks who want it. Sign those union cards. Be union and be free, brothers and sisters.”
Jesse Jackson stepped forward. “Sign those cards. Be union, be free,” his voice resonated over the parking lot.
Sylvia Baya waited until the last of the workers drained from the lot and Tommy had seen Jesse Jackson to his car. She handed him the cell phone. “Martha Nez called. Your daughter wants you to call her at her house right away. An emergency.”
Alicia had never called him on the road. Tommy knew something terrible was wrong. “I need her phone number.” Sylvia presented it to him written on the back of an organizing flyer. He punched in the numbers.
Through sobs, Alicia told him that Mamie had been walking along 48th Street, across from the old Schirmer's music factory, when a Latino jumped at a run out of a moving car, ripped her big black pocketbook from her shoulder, throwing her down, and was back in the car and gone in seconds. A retired fireman, who knew Mamie, saw the whole thing. She was dead on arrival at Elmhurst Medical Center. Fractured skull.
“I'll be home as soon as I can,” Tommy said. He hung up before his daughter could hear his sob. He handed the phone Sylvia. “Get me on the next plane to New York,” he said. Stu Bluh and one of the Southern States international vice presidents stood at a distance waiting to do a critique of the rally and to go over the remainder of the Florida schedule, with stops in Orlando and Miami before Tommy went to Bal Harbour for the AFL-CIO's executive council's winter meeting. Tommy stayed rooted, head bowed, breathing down his sorrow, thinking of Mamie, probably wearing one of her flowered house dresses under a long heavy coat, being slammed onto the gritty winter sidewalk.
“There's a four o'clock flight with a stopover in Pittsburgh. You get into LaGuardia at 8.”
“Right,” he said, barely able to speak. He went over to the others telling them cryptically that he was heading back to New York. He would talk to them tomorrow.
Tommy was standing on the steps of St. Teresa's with Alice watching their children and grandchildren being loaded into the undertaker's black limos when a stooped, old man, an Italian, in a cloth peaked cap and a tired tweed jacket, a bit of tobacco leaf in the corner of his mouth, his breath heavy with the smell of cigars, came up beside him. He took Tommy's hand in both of his. “I knew your mother when she was a girl, a beautiful girl.” He paused, a sad expression on his jowly face. “Things turned out different, you could have been my son. I'm sorry for your loss Tommy.” He let Tommy's hand slip from his, as though parting with reluctance.
Tommy, curious, considered fetching the old man back to invite him to the house for the lunch after the burial, but the undertaker called out, “Mr. and Mrs. Kerrigan.” Alice touched his arm, and they went down the steps to the car and the funereal journey behind the hearse through 47th Street past the three-story walkup where Mamie and John Kerrigan lived in the early days of their marriage and moved onto 48th Street and the two-family house, where they raised their two sons, where Mamie her hair in curlers, a cigaret in her hand, received the Army officer who brought the sad tidings of Johnny Jr.'s death in Korea. The Latino kids, hanging out on the corner in front of the bodega where the Kerrigan brothers and their friends hung out when the market was owned by an Irishman from the other side catering to an Irish-American clientele, glanced with curiosity at the hearse and long line of cars. When he was a boy growing up in Woodside, Tommy would have paused to face the passing hearses and would have crossed himself, a sign of respect and connection. The entourage went on to First Calvary to drop Mamie's coffin into the grave with John and Johnny Jr. Tommy often recalled with some pleasure, experiencing again the scent of the food, Saturday lunchtimes eating Campbell's tomato soup with Oysterettes with Johnny Jr. in their kitchen on 48th Street; his mother was making them grilled cheese sandwiches. Johnny died in Korea on his 20th birthday.
Alice had arranged a catered buffet luncheon, cold cuts and salads with beer, soft drinks and Irish whisky, for the family and close friends in the house on 48th Street. She sat with Tommy through the three days and nights of the wake in Bergan's Funeral Home, overflowing with floral arrangements from unions and family, and was at his side for the Mass. She was the good hostess today, shaking hands, kissing the cheeks of sympathetic men and women. She wasn't here for him, nor out of respect for Mamie, whom she never liked. This was her children's grandmother, and her grandchildren's great-grandmother. After the last guest had been eased out the door, and Emmett and Alicia and their spouses and children had gathered their things, Alice and Tommy brushed one another's cheeks with the parting kisses of acquaintances. “Thank you so very much,” he said squeezing her hand. She walked weeping to Roger's car with the New Hampshire plates. Her sorrow was not for Mamie, but a realization of the parting of yet another of the thin strands of attachment in her marriage.
Tommy flew to Boston that night and was outside a Big Tit freight terminal at 4 AM for a shift-change rally, then moved from terminal to terminal in a wide circle of the suburbs surrounding the city. He was back in his hotel room late in the afternoon slipping into a hot bath to soften the ache in his back when the phone rang. Sylvia Baya was on the line. She said Gary Seegar, a reporter for the New York Account, had tracked her down. He wanted to talk to Tommy, no one else would do. He refused to ask his questions through her.
“Tell him to go to hell,” Tommy said with irritation. The Account was a tabloid rag capable of printing anything as long as it grabbed readers. If he spoke to the reporter, the Account would twist his words to suit the paper's fancy not the facts or the truth. He hung up, irritated. He had been smeared by the New York tabloids many times through the years. He tried not to wonder what they would go with tomorrow, but he called Sylvia back ordering her to have a copy of the paper for him first thing in the morning.
He slept late, until 8 AM. He had a breakfast meeting scheduled for 9 with Stu Bluh to discuss increasing the pressure on the Big TIT with a corporate campaign to start isolating the company from the financial community combined with a grass roots lobbying effort aimed at Congressmen, mostly Republicans, aligned with the corporation. Six more days of stops, in Albany, Buffalo, Cleveland, Williamsport, Peoria, and Chicago, ending with a huge, multi-union rally including the four candidates for the 1992 Democratic presidential nomination. Through Jack Egan, Tommy had told the four candidates, to be there or be without the Truckers' support in the November election. Egan said that was bad politics. Tommy said good politics had the American labor movement in a sinkhole so there was nothing to lose by being rough or taking risks. They can retaliate, Jack said. So can the Truckers, Tommy replied. The four agreed to come.
He was almost out the door when Sylvia brought the paper. The front page of the tabloid was filled with a grainy picture of Tommy and the hunched old man on the steps of St. Teresa's with a big question mark imposed on it. In thick, blue and red letters, the headline said:
The text under the photo said: Tête-à-tête on the church steps recorded by a police surveillance camera. An exclusive by Gary Seegar. See Page 7. Inside was a smaller version of the front-page photo over a block of type:
“Truckers Union President Tommy Kerrigan whispers with longtime pal, mob capo Anthony (Tony Two Pots) Siciliano outside St. Teresa's RC Church in Woodside after a funeral Mass two weeks ago for Tommy's mom, Mamie Kerrigan. If Tommy K is the reformer he claims he is, why wouldn't he talk to the New York Account about his tête-à-tête with Tony Two Pots, the mob boss who tells the city's construction and trucking union bosses what to do.”
“What bullshit. How can they print this?” Tommy said.
“What do you want me to tell other reporters when they call?”
“That I don't know who this Tony Two Pots is? I don't remember talking to him on the church steps,” Tommy said, lying, looking her in the eye.
Three television crews and eight newspaper reporters, including, New York Globe labor reporter Henri Maitlin Serre, Long Island World labor reporter Howard Bowles, and Gary Seegar of the New York Account, were waiting for Tommy at the Albany Airport. He was furious. “How did they know I was coming,” he snarled at Sylvia when he saw the pack.
“The Big TIT press packet we sent out. Got your whole itinerary,” she said, her voice quavering, nervous.
“I'm going into the John. You hold them off for a minute.”
She grabbed his arm. “You can't look like you're running away. Just tell them the truth.”
Tommy, forcing a smile, walked with her to confront the press. He took a light approach, thanking them for covering the Truckers campaign to organize the exploited workers at Titus Interstate. Everyone laughed. He said he would answer all questions as soon as he told them why he was in Albany, and had been traveling across the country the past six months visiting trucking terminals at 4 in the morning and meeting Titus Interstate employees in their homes at night, listening to their stories of unfair treatment, of working while injured, about their long hours, low pay and pitiful fringe benefits. “They really need union representation,” he said.
A pretty young television reporter, heavily made up and dressed in a nicely-cut suit, asked him what he and Tony Two Pots were talking about?
Tommy responded that he didn't remember speaking to this man, whoever he was, but he must have because there was the picture.
“Come on Tommy, what were you talking about?” Gary Seegar from the Account shouted over the mellow-voiced television reporter.
“I assume he expressed sympathy over the loss of my mother. That's what human beings do, Lou. I tell you honestly I don't know this man. I never saw him before. I don't even remember speaking to him.”
Seegar expressed open skepticism that Tommy had never heard of the mob boss who ran the construction and waterfront union rackets in New York City with his name appearing in dozens of newspaper stories. Tommy said he read about him, but never had anything to do with him. The print reporters challenged him on that statement, asking about Tony Two Pots relationship to his mother, Mamie Kerrigan, and what role he played in resolving the city-wide grocery warehousing strike in 1971.
“None,” said Tommy.
Bowles, the World reporter, said, “Some sources say Tony Two Pots ended the strike as a favor to your mother.”
“What kind of craziness are you guys swallowing,” Tommy said, trembling with rage, his face flushed. “Some anonymous scumbag tells you stuff like that about my dead mother and you believe it? That strike ended because Local 1890's rank and file stuck together. End of story. Nothing else. This sounds to me like Titus Interstate or somebody connected to them is trying to sink our organizing drive, and you're helping them out.”
“It came from a union source that has never been wrong,” Serre from the Globe said.
Tommy looked at Serre in his three-piece suit, dressed more like an ambitious corporate careerist than a newspaper reporter. “Sounds to me like there's the truth and there's what you're gonna print to sell papers. We have a schedule to keep,” he said with obvious irritation, walking away from the reporters.
In the morning, on the plane to Buffalo, Tommy read the stories saying a former FBI agent, whose name was being withheld, said that as a favor to his alleged former sweetheart, Mamie Kerrigan, Anthony (Tony Two Pots) Siciliano ended the city-wide warehouse strike in 1971, boosting the budding union career of Tommy Kerrigan, then president of Truckers Local 1890, now international president of the Truckers International Union of North America. Bobby Bell, spokesman for Steve Staski, demanded an investigation into Tommy K's mob connections. “He's not fit to be president of the greatest union in the world,” Bell said.
The World had the most comprehensive account that included an ancient black and white snapshot of 20-year-old Mamie Halloran, her maiden name, and 25-year-old Anthony Siciliano in bathing suits, his arm encircling her narrow waist, sitting on the fender of a Desoto sedan.
The story said that mob-turncoat Sonny Spiaggia, the son of Two Pot's life-long sidekick, Joey the Monster Spiaggia, had provided the photo from a family album through his lawyer. Monster Spiaggia took the picture, gave Tony Two Pots a copy and put one in his own album with a caption underneath: "Anthony and Red, Long Beach, August, 1931." In a telephone interview, Sonny told the World that Tony Two Pots kept his copy of the picture in a frame on the wall opposite his desk in his private office at the Sunset Walking Association, his storefront club off Steinway Street in Astoria. “Everyone knew Red was the love of his life,” Sonny said.
Tony Two Pots was the nickname attached to him after a police detective testifying at his trial on murder charges recounted seeing Anthony Siciliano kill three Irish thugs in Greenwich Village on May 22, 1931 in what the tabloids called the Battle of Horatio Street. “They swung by him in an open car blazing away with Tommy guns, but the street was rough and the car bounced and nothing touched Mr. Siciliano. He drew a pistol and pot, pot, he hits the driver as the car turns the corner; the car crashes. I'm yelling, Police! Put down that weapon. He runs around the corner and pot, pot down goes victim number two who was running down the street; then pot, pot, he nails victim number three trying to climb out of the car.” The prosecutor asked with a smile, “Two pots each?” “Yessir,” the detective replied.
Free on bail and awaiting trial, Siciliano met Mamie Halloran on a Hudson Day Liner boat ride to Bear Mountain, according to Sonny. They had a brief romance that lasted until his trial that September. He was found guilty and sentenced to 20 years to life. The sentence was later overturned, and in a plea-bargaining deal, he served five years in prison.
Sonny told the World that during the big strike, the home of a warehouse owner, who fell under "the family's" umbrella, had been bombed, but instead of ordering Tommy whacked, Tony Two Pots ordered Neil (The Corker) Corso, the mob soldier in charge of Local 1890, to back off Tommy K after his old love, Mamie interceded on her son's behalf.
Tommy stared at the photo of his pretty, smiling mother and the lithe, handsome Anthony Siciliano. You couldn't tell the color of her hair from the photo, but everyone said Mamie had startlingly beautiful red hair as a girl. She dyed it varying shades of red till the day she died. Mamie married Johnny Kerrigan on Oct. 12, 1931, just three weeks after they met. Siciliano had just been sentenced to 20 years in prison. He wondered if the marriage to Johnny Kerrigan had been on the rebound? His parents had never been very happy. That was obvious.
Tommy wished he could call a press conference to tell the real story, but that would just complicate his life.
On Aug. 1, 1971, the contracts at 40 different warehouses and factories ran out. Tommy had called a meeting of the entire membership, including the blacks and Puerto Ricans from the Bronx and Brooklyn, telling them that they were going to strike the next morning and stay out until they got a city-wide, region-wide master agreement in place of the existing mishmash of excellent and sell-out contracts. He told them some members of Local 1890--mostly the blacks and Puerto Ricans--were working under inferior contracts making just 10 cents more than the minimum wage without health insurance or pensions. He wasn't going to stand for that. They shouldn't endure their union brothers being screwed to enrich greedy bosses. “We're bringing the floor up to the prime contracts; we're getting everybody in the health and pension plan; and on top of that we are getting a six percent raise each year,” Tommy shouted, and the members stood and cheered. That was a relief. He was concerned the Irish and Italians would say fuck the niggers and the spics, but they understood. They were willing to fight for them.
In the second week of the strike, Butch O'Brien, a truck driver and one of Local 1890's trustees, brought Neil Corso to meet with Tommy about the possibility of Sunshiners Groceries Inc.'s two warehouses signing separate agreements with Local 1890. Corso said the warehouses, one in the Bronx, one in Westchester, were owned by a good friend, who just couldn't afford to pay the wages and fringes in the proposed master contract. Tommy looked at his shaved head, his thick muscular body, and sensed this man was danger personified. He said as politely as he could that everyone was going to be covered by the master contract. Corso's face became a sneer. “You're a new guy on the block. So I'll give you some free advice. Don't get your tit in a ringer for a bunch of coons and spics.” “Get out of my office,” Tommy said. Tommy called an immediate meeting of the local's executive board to warn everyone of the heavy hitter who had visited him.
The rough stuff began within days. Two Local 1890 pickets were beaten in the middle of the night when no cops were around. The next day Happy Koenig, who had been sent to the Bronx with a contingent of members from the Review Avenue Warehouse, to reinforce the picket line at the Sunshiners' warehouse was run down by a car, driven by Arnold Sheill, president of Sunshiners Groceries. Pickets said Sheill swerved to hit Koenig, who was heavily bruised, but the police refused to arrest Sheill.
A week later around 4 AM, a small incendiary bomb exploded shattering the front door and all of the windows on the second floor of the Sheill home in Westchester, sending shards of glass flying, blinding and disfiguring nine-year-old Stanley Sheill.
Months later, long after the strike was over, The World ran a story that an unnamed investigator revealed that among the remnants of the bomb recovered from the Sheill home was a bit of wire twisted into TT. The source said that a similar "signature" was found in the bombing of a cafe in Guatemala in which three CIA agents were killed in 1968. He said the double "T" was believed to stand for La Tempestad Trabajadores, a terrorist group in Guatemala. The Account reported that the Manhattan District Attorney was investigating whether a Cuban-backed Communist cell in league with Local 1890 planted the bombs. Tommy was livid. He called the Account reporter to ask him who in the DA's office told him that? The reporter said he couldn't reveal his source. He called the district attorney, who didn't respond himself. A public relations person called back to say that his office, which deals with the press, never released such information.
Tommy called a press conference in front of City Hall in Manhattan. He told the reporters that he was heartbroken over the terrible injuries suffered by little Stanley Sheill. Neither he nor Local 1890 had anything to do with the bombing. Obviously, Arnold Sheill's mistreatment of his workers, and his refusal to sign a fair contract had provoked someone into this horrible action. As for the Communist connection, Tommy said he had been in the Airborne, where he was trained to fight Communists. He demanded a Congressional investigation into who was spreading these lies. He said the leading suspects were the bosses who didn't want to give their workers decent wages. A reporter asked him whether he had a sit-down with Neil The Corker to arrange a settlement? “I don't know who the hell Neil The Corker is,” Tommy said, knowing he must be talking about Neil Corso, but not willing to say so. Another reporter asked if Happy were a Communist. Tommy stormed away saying, “Oh, what's the use.”