Teamsters for a Democratic Union Meet, Plan For Future Battles

by Kathy Kleckner |
January 1, 2000
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Cleveland, OH - Hundreds of Teamsters, tired of being driven down by their employers and sold out far to often by their union leaders, gathered November 5-7 for the annual convention of Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU).

Hoffa, Jr. Fails

A key topic at the convention was how do we grade Junior Hoffa as Teamster president? The answers were telling. He earned an "F" at Anheuser-Busch after disarming the workers and shutting down the unions corporate campaign. To top it off, he then rammed a sub-par contract down their throats.

At Northwest Airlines he tried the same thing, but so far, a rank and file network of activists have rebuffed his pro-management efforts. At United Parcel Service (UPS), he allowed the employer to renege on providing the fulltime jobs won in the historic strike of 1996.

Highlighted at the convention was the largest wildcat strike since the 1970s, against Iowa Beef Products (IBP), an international meat packing company. The strike in Pasco, Washington, lead by Latina/o workers, was an example of true rank and file struggle against the bosses.

In response to this upsurge, Junior Hoffa had the IBP local put into trusteeship, in fear that the old guard leadership would lose the upcoming election to the new leaders. "Our eyes have been opened, and we won't stop fighting," said a convention participant.

"In short order, Hoffa has made it his priority to undermine rank and file power," said another convention attendee.

The 1998 TDU-endorsed candidate for International President of the Teamsters, Tom Leedham, summed it up: "The Hoffa people do the same thing over and over again. First they talk tough...then they settle short...and finally they declare victory." And their sellout of the workers is complete.

Leedham's own history, as a union leader who will fight all-out on behalf of workers, stands in stark contrast to Hoffa's pro-boss tactics. Because of this, TDU members view Tom Leedham as one of their own. Many at the convention were encouraging Leedham to run against Hoffa in 2001.

Vital Role of TDU

Like a magnet, TDU has drawn the best fighters from the rank and file of this important union for the past 25 years.

At the TDU convention, organizing techniques are learned and networks of union activists are formed. New strategies are hatched, debated, and implemented by workers demanding justice from their employers. TDU is always at the center of the class struggle. This convention was no different in that respect.

TDU does not just complain and run candidates. Convention workshops taught Teamsters how to organize their co-workers and fight attacks from the boss as well as the sellouts in the union. Rank and file Teamsters discussed and debated what a reform union should look like.

Showdown Ahead

The next big struggle will be at the union's International Convention, in 2001. The fight to elect reform delegates will occur in every local union of the Teamsters. "This will be an important chance to elect rank and file members instead of fat cats," said Mike Turnure, TDU activist.

Most people at the TDU convention are convinced that Hoffa is in the process of trying to take away the Rank and File Teamster's right to vote for International Union President and Executive Board. This, no doubt, will be a major fight at the International Convention.

The International Convention will also nominate officers for International President and the Executive Board. The convention can make sweeping changes in the constitution. This could move us forward, or take away gains that have taken decades to win.

The TDU convention voted to initiate delegate campaigns with a reform platform that includes giving local unions the right to change their bylaws to allow elected business agents.

The TDU convention was successful, a rank and file gathering of nearly 500 teamster activists. Any teamster member who wants to fight for a strong and democratic union should plan on attending next year.