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Teamsters Push for a Fighting Union

by Kathy Kleckner |
January 1, 1999
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Milwaukee, WI - Over 400 Teamsters gathered here November 6-8 for the annual convention of Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU). TDU is a powerful rank and file caucus that's working to turn around the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

This year's convention focused on the election of top, international officers of the union. TDU had endorsed the Tom Leedham Rank and File Power Slate, and nearly the whole Rank and File Power Slate was there. Convention participants talked about getting Leedham elected, how to move more Teamsters to vote, measured up the forces of the opposing candidate, Jimmy Hoffa, Jr., and exchanged views about why this election is important.

The highlight of the convention was a speech by Tom Leedham, expressing the principles of TDU and the differences between his slate and Hoffa's: "We believe in bringing out the best in people. They appeal to the worst... We spend our time with other members in union halls and breakrooms and on picket lines. They're most comfortable on a golf course with management. We believe that democracy is the way to prevent corruption and weak leadership. They believe that the union belongs to the top officers and that membership involvement is a threat to their comfortable lifestyles."

TDU supported the previous Teamsters president, Ron Carey, but many criticize Carey for not going far enough to eliminate do-nothing, old-guard leaders. The whole convention stood and cheered when Leedham said, "I want to make it plain as day. When we win this election, we're dropping the curtain on the old guard. Local union officers will either stand with the rank and file or we'll run them out!"

Kathy Kleckner is former president of AFSCME Local 3800.