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The Teamsters are Coming Home Again

January 1, 1988 -

The American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) has welcomed the Teamsters union back into its fold, 30 years after it expelled the same union for corrupt practices. The reasons for the reunion have been both pragmatic and 3 cynical: it will increase dues income and help to settle jurisdictional disputes. But the bad reputation of the Teamsters union still lingers, and for good reasons.

At present, the U.S. Justice Department is preparing a civil suit to unseat the union's 21- member executive board. Jackie Presser, current international president, is facing trial on charges of racketeering and embezzlement of union funds. Of the six presidents who have served since the founding of the Teamsters in 1899, three have served jail terms. This includes the notorious Jimmy Hoffa, murdered in 1975 and well known for his ruthless methods and his ties with the underworld. The now 1.6 million-member union has obviously deserved its bad reputation. Many observers expressed their utter dismay at AFL-CIO's willingness to readmit this corruption-stained union. Thomas Geoghegan, a Chicago labour lawyer, remarked angrily: "I resent what the council has done. It makes us all look like goons. The rank and file, I like to hope, would never have approved this. Union members, like other Americans, do not like to throw in with felons. Only hacks, unelected hacks, could stomach this kind of thing" (The New Republic, November 16, 1987).

What about the Teamsters' status in Canada? In 1960, the Canadian Teamsters union, too, was expelled from the Canadian central labour body on charges of raiding. While it has never been found guilty of the extensive corruption that has infested its U.S. parent, it nevertheless is stained by its affiliations and it still has voting procedures that violate the rules of the Canadian Labour Congress. Nonetheless, merger talks are now underway in Canada. CLC president Shirley Carr has expressed the hope that the 90,000-member Canadian Teamsters union will apply for affiliation. Her reasons for welcoming this union back into the fold? "We're getting punched around all over the place by employers, [and] if we don't start standing together, there will be a critical situation" (Globe and Mail, December 28, 1987). Thus the same cynicism prevails in the central labour bodies on both sides of the border. Not principle and honour but expediency and a simple-minded kind of trade union solidarity prevails. Canadian and American workers deserve better.