James Hoffa Jr. – Trying to Serve Two Masters

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Teamsters President James P. Hoffa made a tough, militant speech at the June 27 rally. He said that he had sat in that morning at the bargaining session between the ILWU and the PMA, and that he told the companies the ILWU could count on the support of the Teamsters. If longshoremen are picketing, Teamsters will be picketing.

Still, Hoffa seems to be trying to walk a very narrow line, or some might say he’s trying to serve two masters, the Bush administration and the maritime ranks. For right around the time that security director Tom Ridge was attempting to intimidate the ILWU officers, Hoffa told reporters outside the White House that Teamsters could be an important part of a “basic domestic intelligence service where we can see things that are suspicious and make sure they’re reported.”

“I offered the fact that we have 500,000 truck drivers on the road at any one time, and these people can be the eyes and ears of the homeland security office,” he told Reuters (June 21). “Hoffa said the Teamsters would get together with various trucking associations to work out a strategy.”

Hoffa was just one of a number of union chiefs that met with Ridge that day. Nor was he the only one to offer to bring his members even closer to the state apparatus than they and their unions are.

“Michael Sacco, president of the Seafarers International Union, made a similar offer for watching America’s seas and ports. ‘We want to put an intelligent network around this country and around the world to protect the citizens of the United States, and funnel whatever information we can to whatever agencies, after this department is put in place we have to funnel it to,’ he said.”

The tendency of unions around the world to become closely tied to the political state was noticed long ago. However, it seems unlikely that the observers at that time would have foreseen Hoffa’s and Sacco’s specific proposal to Ridge.

If it’s not clear what Sacco’s motivation is, the same is not true of Hoffa. He’s strenuously campaigning to get the government to lift its oversight of the Teamsters. The press reports that he’s a frequent White House visitor talking to Bush and his staff. What about? The press thinks it might be Bush’s reelection effort.

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