"A powerful page-turner that completely reshapes how we think about the connections between unions, corruption, and organized crime..."
"...a fierce yet all but forgotten battle for the soul of the union movement – a battle whose ambiguous outcome haunts us still."
Joseph A. McCartin
New York Herald Tribune coverage of Robert Kennedy, chief counsel, at the McCLellan Committee Hearings. Getty Images
About Murder in the Garment District
Developed from over ten years of research, with a narrative that is unique in its depth and its inclusion of the roles of working people and their unions, Murder in the Garment District traces the political battles over organized labor’s role in this country. This issue was, along with the threat of communism, at the forefront of public concern. Deeply researched, Murder in the Garment District draws on a broad range of primary source material, much of which has only recently been made available. Research also includes FBI case files, and the private papers of the investigative journalists whose exposés helped trigger these events. The result is a unique behind-the-scenes perspective on the investigations of the time. Grounded in the street-level events that put people’s lives and livelihoods at stake, Murder in the Garment District shows the systemic corruption that shaped the public perception of a once potent labor movement diminished almost beyond recognition today.
Hollywood’s fixation on corruption and criminal personalities in depictions of labor (The Irishman, Hoffa, F.I.S.T.) distorts the historical truth of unions and their power, and undermines our understanding of the goals and struggles of America’s working people. These distortions cement negative stereotypes of unions and their ideals for a new generation of viewers.
The real-world efforts of The Irishman’s Russell Bufalino to exploit and control women garment workers in Pennsylvania’s coal country met with fierce opposition by the members of the Ladies’ Garment Workers Union and Min Matheson, the woman who led them. Their story provides an historical alternative to the hyped-up masculinity that dominates Hollywood’s depiction of labor and working people.
David Witwer November 10, 2019
On a summer afternoon in 1975, the most notorious labor leader in the United States disappeared, the presumed victim of a mob hit. Today, the case remains unsolved, Hoffa’s body has never been found, and his story continues to fascinate the public. Martin Scorsese’s new film, “The Irishman,” about a mob hitman who claims to have killed Hoffa, is only the most recent in a long line of film and TV productions about the one labor leader most Americans have ever heard of.
David Witwer is a professor of history and American studies at Penn State Harrisburg and the author of Corruption and Reform in the Teamsters Union and Shadow of the Racketeer. Witwer also worked in the Labor Racketeering Bureau of the New York County District Attorney's Office and served as a staff researcher at the New York State Organized Crime Task Force. Catherine Rios is an award-winning filmmaker and writer and an associate professor of humanities and communications at Penn State Harrisburg.