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What's Behind Hoffa's Election

by Kathy Kleckner |
January 2, 1999
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With just 30 percent of all Teamsters voting, Jimmy Hoffa, Jr., was elected president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. He got fewer votes than when he ran and lost the election in 1996. Hoffa, Jr., will be in office two years before the post is up for election again.

With rank and file power and very little money, Tom Leedham pulled close in the final months of the campaign, but time ran out. Junior Hoffa campaigned for 4 years, had the famous family name and 6 million dollars. Leedham was unknown to most members and entered the race only last spring. He beat Hoffa Jr., in Minnesota.

Junior Hoffa won largely because of the support of old-guard, hack union leaders, many of them earning over $100,000 per year. They have far more in common with the bosses than the members.

Hoffa is a millionaire lawyer who has never held an elected office or a real job, he does not know how to fight even if he wanted to. Much of his vote totals came from lop-sided turnouts in large locals where his cronies were able to mobilize paid union staff to turn out votes for him.

Tom Leedham's campaign suffered a couple of major hits. First, Leedham was abandoned by so-called allies in the Teamster reform movement. Many officials who were the first to suck up to Ron Carey and the reform movement when it was in power, showed their true colors when the chips where down and refused to lift a finger for the Leedham campaign. For example, Sue Maurn and the other misleaders of Minnesota's Local 320.

On top of that, many Teamsters who voted for Carey just did not vote this time, apparently disgusted with the whole process. Overall, nearly one million ballots were never sent in.

The loss points to the need for the reform movement to get back to the basics of organizing to build the grassroots movement that it will take to truly reform the Teamsters union.

Much of Hoffa Junior's campaign beat the drum for unity and pride. His record shows that these cliches will mean little more than repressing the call from union members who are fighting to the end against the entrenched business unionism that has suffocated the Teamsters for decades now.

It will be key to watch how Junior relates to the AFL-CIO leadership, many of whom supported Ron Carey in the 1996 election. Hoffa's conservative influence will likely hold back the changes that AFL-CIO leader, John Sweeney, has promoted to move the labor movement in a more progressive direction.

Leedham and TDU have pledged to hold Junior Hoffa's feet to the fire, forcing him to live up to campaign promises to fight for good contracts, promote a militant Teamsters union, and preserve union democracy. Teamster reformers have been very successful in pushing Hoffa to talk the reform talk. He has even promised to cut the salaries of his lackeys. Now all Teamsters can push Hoffa Junior to walk the walk.

The results of this election deliver one clear message: the tasks of the reform movement in the Teamsters are more important than ever. The lesson of this election is that only a large, active, well-organized reform movement can defeat old-guard Teamsters and rebuild a strong, democratic and militant Teamsters union. The fight goes on

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