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What Are The Teamsters Doing?

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The Teamsters playing footsie with Donald Trump has now led to a $45,000 donation to the Republican National Committee, the first time the Teamsters have donated to Republicans in a long time.

What the hell is going on here?

I think there are a couple of things.

First, the Teamsters are almost certainly going to endorse Joe Biden. Sean O’Brien has not actually said anything good about Trump and he has said plenty of good things about Biden.

But I want you to think about the Teamsters. A lot of the membership are driving all the time. What are they doing on these drives? Listening to the radio. What is on the radio? The worst kind of right-wing trash imaginable. Meanwhile, the Teamsters haven’t done any political education. We all know that unions can endorse whoever they want, but probably 40 percent of union members are going to vote for the Republican. In heavily white male unions, that is likely to be higher. This number has been remarkably stable for decades, going back to at least 1980. Trump had a bit of a gain in 2016, but in 2020, it looked like every other election.

What could change that is doing actual political education. But most unions have completely dropped the ball on this. There are some exceptions, especially in the service industry. But the Teamsters and the UAW and the building trades have all either stopped doing this or really have never done it. Yes, members are told it is in their interests to vote for Democrats, but between elections, there’s really nothing going on. And it’s pretty easy for members to ignore union leadership.

So I think the main thing happening here is O’Brien telling his members, “yes we are listening to how much you hate immigrants and love Trump and we respect that and here is some money to prove it before we endorse Biden.”

But of course this basically says it is OK for Teamsters to vote for Trump and that’s a terrible thing to be saying to your members. Donald Trump was a disaster for workers, starting with his three anti-union Supreme Court appointments and going far from there. Rather than start a more effective political education arm, the Teamsters leadership is just giving up and instead promoting themselves as listening more to members, many of whom have awful politics.

I should say that some of the Teamsters for a Democratic Union locals do a better job of political education and in my experience, that includes the local in Rhode Island, which TDU controls. But the IBT is a highly complex organization with power loci in many places and so that doesn’t easily scale.

The second reason for O’Brien’s move is to keep the Teamsters’ foot in the door if Trump wins. I don’t see how that will ever pay off for the union, but I guess you can make an argument for it. I wouldn’t, but you could.

I’m not really worried about the $45,000, which isn’t that much money in the end. I am concerned about the Teamsters giving cover for voting for candidates who hate them.

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