By Jane Slaughter
When the history of the labor movement in the early 21st century is written, James P. Hoffa may be remembered as the man who brought Pat Buchanan to a union rally.
When the AFL-CIO called a demonstration and lobbying day in Washington on April 12 against permanent normal trade relations with China, the
Teamsters held their own rally. Buchanan, the probable Reform Party presidential candidate, told the Teamsters that, if elected, he'd tell Chinese officials: "You stop persecuting Christians, you stop threatening my country, or you guys have sold your last pair of chopsticks in any mall in the United States."
If elected, Buchanan promised to make Hoffa his chief trade negotiator. Though George W. Bush also met recently with Hoffa to seek his endorsement, the Teamsters leader's real concern isn't presidential politics. It's internal Teamsters matters - including making sure he's re-elected in 2001 and ending government oversight of Teamsters elections.
Hoffa's recent willingness to reach out to the right and a desire to end the consent decree that brought about oversight have created some strange bedfellows. In April, the Teamsters endorsed the re-election bid of anti-labor Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), who voted against all nine of the Teamsters' key legislative issues last year. But Hoekstra was the congressman who led the investigation of former Teamsters President Ron Carey, which led to Hoffa's election. Hoekstra also has crusaded to end the 11-year supervision of the union by the government. "We realize what his voting record is, and we also realize that the Democrats have not done a whole lot to help us out with the consent decree," says Bill Black, the union's Michigan legislative director. Black called the endorsement "right for the overall big picture for this union."
Jane Slaughter is a contributing editor of In These Times.