Path for the Future
Hoffa believed the only way for workers to maintain standards they had achieved, and for unions to survive would be through master contracts throughout all the trade divisions of the Teamsters.
Just as employers are organized on national level, so must labor consolidate its power and this was the breakthrough in the NMFA of 1964. The agreement gave the
Teamsters power equal and even beyond that of the big trucking companies.
In the changing world of economics and trade, this blueprint remains the course all unions must take in order to ensure their hard earned legacy is not diminished in the future.
Teamsters and Civil Rights
Dignity in the workplace does not only come from good contracts. It comes from equality -- something the Teamsters Union has fought for from its beginning.
Women's rights, civil rights, the rights of migrant workers, as well as protections for minor, senior and disabled workers are just a few of the causes the Teamsters have taken up in the name of fairness.
Through legislation, donations and activism, the Teamsters Union has made more of a difference in these areas than perhaps any union or single organization in North America. Wherever working men and women marched for jobs, civil rights or justice, the Teamsters were on the front lines.
This does not mean it has been an easy road for minorities -- or women of any color. Overall however, the Teamsters Union tried to do the right thing and protect all its members. And it's usually been ahead of the other unions and society in general. There still is much to do, but the Teamsters have a good history to build upon.
Equal Pay for All
The Teamsters did not just talk equality they lived it. Early Teamsters would not allow southern locals to follow the practice of segregation, and in fact threatened to pull charters in cases where this was violated. The first local in New Orleans was governed by an Executive Board that consisted of black and white members, defying southern tradition. By 1906, editorials in the Teamsters magazine were making impassioned pleas for all local unions, but especially those in the south, to organize African-American workers.
The International Brotherhood of Teamsters also championed the cause of women's rights early on. The following was printed in the July 1917 issue of the Teamsters Journal:
"Equal pay for equal work should become a constant, vigorous slogan among all employees in all crafts. The strength and brains of women and girls are exploited the world over and especially so in the United States. All working men and women should become actively, and, if necessary, drastically interested in fighting for equal pay for duties performed by either sex. The standard of living in every workingman's home is lowered by sexual inequality of pay and both sexes should band together and swat the curse from all parts of the earth where it exists."
Later that same year the Teamsters won a clause in a contract for women laundry workers that required equal pay regardless of race. This was a huge achievement and
became the first "color blind" contract for workers. This action brought criticism and even threats to the union and its leaders, but they would not be intimidated. By 1919 the Teamsters adopted "Equal Pay for All" as their national slogan.
The Civil Rights Movement
As the civil rights movement grew in the 1950s and 1960s the Teamsters became very involved. The union provided money and supplies to many civil rights groups, including the more than 700 families living in "Freedom Village," who faced retribution for registering to vote in 1960.
The Teamsters had a good working relationship with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., with representatives on civil rights boards and committees. And, union members and leaders were active participants in the movement at a time when such actions were considered risky, if not down right dangerous for any organization.
Scores of Teamsters members were among the more than 200,000 people who participated in the historic March on Washington in 1963. Buses carrying Teamsters arrived from near and far, some driving through the night to join the activities on time. Members who attended described the event as "the greatest peaceable demonstration in the history of the nation." Others reported feeling great pride in the union for its support of the civil rights movement.
But the Teamsters' involvement in social causes was not without consequences.
Viola Liuzzo, the wife of a Teamster business agent was murdered as she drove Marchers to Selma, Alabama in 1965. Dr. King as well as many rank-and-file members, James R. Hoffa and other Teamster leaders attended her funeral.
The union continues to strive for political and social justice. The Teamsters have many different caucuses keeping an eye on inequality in the workplace and in Washington. The International's Human Rights Commission with delegates from three caucuses the Teamsters National Black Caucus, the Teamsters Hispanic Caucus and the Teamsters Women's Caucus are all hard at work to support Teamster diversity.
Teamsters and Drive
In 1959, The Teamsters recognized the need to develop comprehensive legislative and political programs within the union following the passage of the Landrum-Griffin bill and other anti-labor legislation.
In November of that year, James R. Hoffa established the Department of Legislation and Political Education. Hoffa called for the department to develop a political action program with member support. D.R.I.V.E. -- Democratic, Republican, Independent Voter Education -- is born.
Officially launched in 1960, D.R.I.V.E. has two main objectives:
- To elect candidates to public office who are friendly to the interests of Teamster members;
- Passage or defeat of legislation of special concern to Teamster families.
D.R.I.V.E. committees are formed to meet those goals through activities such as screening and recommending favorable candidates, launching registration drives and developing plans for get-out-the-vote campaigns in primary and general elections. Funding is strictly voluntary and kept separate from dues.
Teamster Women Take the Wheel
Sid Zagri, D.R.I.V.E.'s first director, quickly realizes that one of the best resources the union has is wives and women members, who had a long history as political organizers. He develops a partnership with Josephine Hoffa, wife of the General President, to create a women's auxiliary political action program. The ultimate goal was to have a major auxiliary in every Joint Council and make each D.R.I.V.E. unit a political force at the precinct and block level.
Teamster women pause for a photograph on the Capitol steps after lobbying their representatives and senators
Mrs. Hoffa had seen her husband and others physically beaten and subjected to unfair court battles as they tried to improve workers lives. She knew unions could only hold on against tough odds by active participation and constant vigilance. She was one of the first to see that political action was the best defense against the erosion of worker rights in the 1950's. "Labor's enemies don't stop for lunch so neither can we," she said.
She knew taking on a task like D.R.I.V.E. was not for the faint hearten. Many women seemed to not care at all about political issues. Many did not even vote.
She traveled from city to city in 1960 and early 1961 attending rallies that only a handful of people would attend. She and her family were subjected to negative editorials and nasty editorial cartoons for her actions, but she never stopped trying to create D.R.I.V.E. groups. "Labor unions were not built by men and women who got their feelings hurt or quit after the first disappointment," she said.
On April 9, 1961, James R. Hoffa conducted the largest telephone conference to date, speaking with more than 1 million members. His message about D.R.I.V.E. and encouragement for women's committees was wired into meeting halls and theatres in more than 170 cities.
Finally, the tide began to turn. By 1963 the numbers of attendees at her rallies and luncheons ranged from 1,200 to 5,000.
D.R.I.V.E. in Action
Mrs. Hoffa's efforts also included the "D.R.I.V.E. in Action" program, which included DRIVE magazine, issue specific political action kits, letter writing campaigns and political action training programs.
Included in the activities kits were the "DRIVE Goes to a Party" hostess packets. Teamster women were asked to host neighborhood parties and talk about the goals of D.R.I.V.E. -- and discuss issues relating directly to their families and communities. They then would teach friends and neighbors at the party how to get voter registration drives and other activities started in their wards and precincts.
The party idea was very well received by D.R.I.V.E. members and the parties were successful in neighborhoods across the country.
Mrs. Hoffa's most important achievement was the D.R.I.V.E. motorcades held throughout the 1960s.
Between 1962 and 1968, more than 15,000 women delegates from Teamster joint councils, state conferences and auxiliaries -- women of all races, and from different neighborhoods and states -- boarded buses and traveled for hours to speak with their senators and representatives about labor and social justice issues.
When they returned home, the women visited schools, churches and even went house to house to talk about the experience and give an evaluation of how well the politicians understood or were meeting local community needs.
At first leaders on Capitol Hill brushed off the women, but later came to respect their dedication and knowledge.
Senator Hubert Humphrey said he had never seen a more effective political action program than the Teamster women's motorcades.
The women also were not shy about holding senators and representatives accountable for their campaign promises. Especially daunting for the politicians were the Teamster "Scoring banquets" held in Washington. D.R.I.V.E. delegates would get up one at a time and rate politicians' voting records -- often with the spotlighted senator or congressman seated at the table. The press loved the events and attended in large numbers.
D.R.I.V.E. quickly became one of the strongest political action groups in the country and remains so today.
A 1963 Business Week magazine quotes an anti-labor congressman as saying: "We may not like those D.R.I.V.E. women, but they are effective."
The D.R.I.V.E. message soon becomes known as "The Great Conversation" on Capitol Hill. The issues raised by "The Great Conversation" soon become topics of discussion in policy meetings during the Johnson administration and many are adopted by President Johnson's "Great Society."
Changes in the workforce, deregulation and economic hard times led to a drop in D.R.I.V.E. Motorcades and other activities, but the program kept going despite the difficulties.
Teamsters still fight anti-labor legislation through D.R.I.V.E. and work hard to protect all working families. The Teamsters have honed their political skills greatly in the decades since D.R.I.V.E. was formed and have become a leading voice for workers in Washington. But, D.R.I.V.E stays true to its principles and still depends on voluntary member support for funding; it still uses rank-and-file grassroots activities to achieve its goals.