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“Still Punching: TDU in Chicago”

Clara Heyworth17 November 2010

In an article for Counterpunch, Steve Early, contributor to Rebel Rank and File, draws parallels between protests against King George III in late colonial America and the emergence of Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU):

During the 1970s, a small slice of the trade union left was able to tap into working class discontent and workplace militancy in a very enduring way. The result, in the unlikely venue of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), was an on-going "Tea Party" in the best and original sense of that Boston-based organizing against economic royalists. Just as unruly protests against King George III in late colonial America didn't emerge in a vacuum, Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU) was the product of a distinct historical period. It has, nevertheless, managed to survive over the last 35 years, and never stopped acting as a much-needed thorn-in-the-side to Teamster tories everywhere.

In discussing the launch of TDU, Early is quick to mention Rebel Rank and File:

TDU was launched amid wildcat strikes, contract rejections, and spontaneous worker protests of all kinds. Its origins are vividly described in a new Verso collection called Rebel Rank and File, about the much-overlooked blue-collar "revolt from below" that followed the student disturbances of the 1960s (and drew direct inspiration from them).

The particular contribution to Rebel Rank and File to which Early makes reference is that by Dan La Botz entitled "The Tumultuous Teamsters of the 1970s," which begins:

The late 1960s and 1970s were tumultuous years for trucking industry workers and their union, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT). Trucking companies were rapidly consolidating, introducing new technologies, and asserting greater control over their workers, trends that gathered steam over the decade and accelerated to lightspeed with industry deregulation in 1978. In the face of these changes, workers' militancy increased. Teamsters rejected contracts negotiated by their union leaders, forcing several major strikes that involved hundreds of thousands of workers, paralyzed truck traffi c in dozens of states, and brought other industries to a halt. In some states, there were shoot-outs and street battles between strikers and union offi cials, police, or National Guard troops. Rank-and-file Teamsters also engaged in unofficial work stoppages, several of which mobilized tens of thousands of workers in what became virtual general strikes of the freight industry in a city or region, one of them a national wildcat.

Teamsters did not confine their militancy to the workplace. Rank-and-file activists and union dissidents created several different reform organizations or movements of regional and national significance. One of them, Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU), became a permanent opposition party within the IBT, continually revitalizing a grassroots movement for democracy that still survives today.

Visit Counterpunch to read the article in full. Purchase Rebel Rank and File to read more from Dan La Botz as well as other contributions from: Frank Bardacke, Aaron Brenner, Robert Brenner, Dorothy Sue Cobble, Steve Early, Mike Hamlin, A.C. Jones, Kim Moddy, Marjorie Murphy, Paul J. Nyden, Judith Stein, Kieran Taylor and Cal Winslow. 

There will be a discussion of Rebel Rank and File at Modern Times Bookstore in San Francisco this Saturday November 20. And for those of you in New York, mark your calendars for a Rebel Rank and File launch at Brecht Forum February 11, 2011.

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