Following Trump’s election, we wanted to think more deeply about what people mean when they talk about “working-class America.” In the spirit of imagining an alternative, we explore a different democratic process—that within the Teamsters Union. Reconnaissance, Episode 9: Winning America features interviews with Teamster Union members and organizers, and reflections on this political moment by labor journalist Sarah Jaffe.
As it becomes cooler to think about the labor movement, many are starting to look to the history of union organizing in the United States. The Teamsters Union* is not generally synonymous with social justice or democratic socialist reform: their history is dense with political corruption, conflicts of interest, and storied mafia ties.
*Founded in 1903, the Teamsters Union currently has approximately 1.4 million members internationally: people working across different professions, in both public and private sectors. It’s one of the biggest unions in the country, and, according to some, the most democratic, and, according to their website, the most diverse:
The Teamsters Union is North America’s strongest and most diverse labor union. In 1903, the Teamsters started as a merger of the two leading team driver associations. These drivers were the backbone of America’s robust economic growth, but they needed to organize to wrest their fair share from greedy corporations. Today, the Union’s task is exactly the same. The Teamsters are known as the champion of freight drivers and warehouse workers, but have organized workers in virtually every occupation imaginable, both professional and non-professional, private sector and public sector. Our 1.4 million members are public defenders in Minnesota; vegetable workers in California; sanitation workers in New York; brewers in St. Louis; newspaper workers in Seattle; construction workers in Las Vegas; zoo keepers in Pennsylvania; healthcare workers in Rhode Island; bakery workers in Maine; airline pilots, secretaries and police officers. Name the occupation and chances are we represent those workers somewhere.
Fred Zuckerman’s campaign office, Alexandria, VA.
Winning America was produced by Sarah Mendelsohn and Fred Schmidt-Arenales. It was released on 2.22.2017.
Thanks to everyone who gave their time to be interviewed for this episode:
Beth Breslaw, Teamsters United Campaign Coordinator.
Hector Fortis, Teamsters Union Local 804 (Bronx), Shop Steward, Co-host of Local 804 Radio show, “What the Heck.”
Eric Robertson, Teamsters Union Local 728 (Atlanta), Business Agent and Political Director.
Winning America also features Sometimes A Man by Shamir Bailey. Courtesy of Godmode.