In the days since his death, Ted Kennedy has been hailed on the left as a friend to organized labor. Here at TAP, our own Harold Meyerson wrote that Kennedy was a lifelong defender of workers "unable to join unions" and an opponent of Jimmy Carter's agenda of "deregulating industries." But Doug Henwood, editor and publisher of Left Business Observer, remembers Kennedy differently, as a supporter of deregulation in trucking and air travel. And sure enough, the conservative Washington Times editorial page hailed Kennedy as the leading congressional ally for Carter's deregulation agenda.
Last week Matt Yglesias wrote that Kennedy's history as a deregulator should be lauded, since it increased competition and brought down prices for consumers. But as Henwood demonstrates -- with charts! -- since deregulation, truckers' wages have declined and airline prices have inflated.
Of course, breaking up these monopolies cut down on corruption and organized crime. The Kennedy family was no friends of the Teamsters; as a Senate investigator, Bobby Kennedy interrogated Jimmy Hoffa harshly on his ties to the Mafia, and in 1960 wrote a book, The Enemy Within, about crooked unions. Teddy was close to Bobby and likely internalized this vendetta. "Bobby Kennedy saw Hoffa as absolute evil," historian Ronald Steelf has said. "And so he could elevate this struggle against Hoffa into some kind of titanic moral issue, which is why he became so dedicated to it." Indeed, for a time after JFK's assassination, Teddy suspected Mafia involvement as a result of Bobby's Hoffa investigation.
Henwood though, sees something simpler, a back door between Kennedy's staff and companies that made a profit busting unions. "What a remarkable achievement: a policy that has led to huge losses for both labor and capital," Henwood writes. "And any tribute to Teddy Kennedy that omits his prominent role in this disaster is incomplete."
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