Few union gangsters have the exquisitely barbaric pedigree of International Brotherhood of Teamsters president James P. Hoffa.
And few labor unions can match the Teamsters, the million-plus member union of truckers and blue-collar workers, for its legendary connections to organized crime, corruption, and violence. For decades the word Teamster was essentially a synonym for gangster.
Hoffa is the son of James R. Hoffa, the relentlessly corrupt, larger-than-life Teamsters president who worked closely with figures from the crime underworld. In July 1975 the elder Hoffa disappeared mysteriously outside a suburban Detroit restaurant at which he was planning to meet with two mobsters. His body has never been found.
Historian Thaddeus Russell likened the elder Hoffa to General George S. Patton. “He exalted bravery and despised frailty, and presented himself as the toughest, strongest, and most ruthless fighter in the union,” Russell wrote. Hoffa also once proudly proclaimed his potential to be “the meanest bastard that God ever created.”
Like his foul-mouthed, publicity-loving father, the younger Hoffa doesn’t mince words.
Like most union leaders, Hoffa blames “Wall Street’s greed, stupidity and fraud” for the nation’s economic problems, ignoring the role that Big Government meddling in the economy played in inflating the mortgage market bubble. He supports Occupy Wall Street and acknowledges that Teamsters “all over the country are participating in Occupy Wall Street events.”
When introducing President Obama at a Labor Day rally this year, Hoffa launched an attack, bellowing, “We got to keep an eye on the battle that we face: The war on workers. And you see it everywhere, it is the Tea Party.”
Well-practiced in the art of Saul Alinsky-style vilification, Hoffa told the crowd, “Let’s take these son [sic] of bitches out and give America back to an America where we belong.” Not surprisingly, President Obama, who encourages his supporters to find opponents and “argue with them and get in their face,” never distanced himself from Hoffa’s demonization of a large chunk of the U.S. population.
After the event, Hoffa invoked the Mother of All Leftist Cliches, telling ABC News that conservatives “want to roll the clock back to about 1900.”
When Wisconsin voters gave their Republican governor Scott Walker a clear mandate to cut state spending, Hoffa lashed out. In February he called Walker’s extremely modest proposal that state workers shoulder a small percentage of the costs for their health care plans and pensions “union-busting” and “a vindictive attack” that was part of a “one-sided class war.”
Jimmy Hoffa Jr., a lawyer by training, has had a radical streak for a long time.
He grew disenchanted with the union his father had dominated for so long as it drifted away from some of its past radicalism. Teamsters had flirted with Republicans for years. President Nixon commuted the father’s prison sentence for jury tampering and fraud. The union alienated others in the labor movement by endorsing Ronald Reagan for president in 1980 and 1984 as well as his successor George H.W. Bush in 1988.
Teamsters had embraced Republicans decades before in an act of self-preservation when then-Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, a Democrat, went after corruption in the union in the early 1960s.
But by 1995 the younger Hoffa was urging Teamsters to return to the Democratic fold. “American labor is confronted by a crisis — a crisis of lack of militancy, and what we want to do is to get our union moving again, to start rebuilding it from within.”
By 2005, Hoffa led the Teamsters out of the AFL-CIO and into the more radical breakaway labor federation, the SEIU-endorsed Change to Win Coalition. A key criticism of the AFL-CIO was that it was not aggressive enough in recruiting new members. “In our view, we must have more union members in order to change the political climate that is undermining workers’ rights in this country,” he said. “The AFL-CIO has chosen the opposite approach.”
In fact the AFL-CIO had become increasingly radical in the years leading up to the split. Then-president John Sweeney, a member of the neo-communist group Democratic Socialists of America, rescinded a longstanding rule preventing Communist Party members from holding leadership positions within the federation and the unions belonging to it. Sweeney also instituted the “Union Summer” training program which required its young participants to regurgitate Marxist boilerplate “that we produce the world’s wealth, that we belong to the only class with a future, that our class will end all oppression.”
But none of this is radical enough for James P. Hoffa.
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