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Keep On Truckin’ With TDU During COVID

19-Nov-2020by Hank Kennedy, originally published on The Detroit Socialist - Detroit Democratic Socialists of America

Photo: Rob Jacob, CC BY 2.0, creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Teamsters_truck_(1334149518).jpg

On Sunday November 8, members of Teamsters for a Democratic Union attended our 45th annual national convention. This year’s convention was a little different, given the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of being held in Chicago over the course of three days, the convention was held on Zoom over a few hours. In the lead up to the convention Zoom workshops addressed crucial issues for Teamsters such as the threat to wages on working conditions posed by Amazon and how to win the UPS contract we all deserve.

Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU) is a grassroots, rank-and-file organization dedicated to democratizing and strengthening the Teamsters union. TDU was founded in 1975 as “Teamsters for a Decent Contract” which was for democracy, better contracts, and against corruption. Since then it has played a vital role in educating members, fighting the influence of organized crime and winning the right for Teamsters to elect our top officers.

The convention began with a montage of TDU activities set to Mavis Staples’ powerful rendition of “We Shall Not Be Moved.” When the convention was called to order there were about 200 participants, although some Zoom accounts had multiple people on. Everyone was disappointed that we could not meet in person but it was gratifying for all to see how many still turned out.

Members heard reports from Teamsters looking to take back their locals and rebuild them into strong fighting unions. This ranged from UPS drivers in New York City to bus drivers out of Jacksonville, to grocery warehouse workers in Southern California. Many members of the TDU Black caucus stressed the unity of the fights for labor rights and civil rights. They said our movement must fight the inequality of wealth and the inequality faced by POC, women, and others. The convention also elected 15 members to the national steering committee with the candidates representing the wonderful diversity of our union.

Sean O’Brien, the TDU endorsed candidate for Teamsters general president in 2021 addressed the gathering. This is significant because O’Brien was formerly aligned with incumbent Teamsters President James Hoffa and was a longtime opponent of TDU and Teamsters reformers. That he would not only speak at the TDU convention but seek and accept our endorsement shows how things have changed over the last few years. As Bob Dylan once sang “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”

I attended a breakout session on TDU’s education program as a new member of both the Teamsters and TDU because I felt it was necessary to share how important I felt these educational initiatives were, especially the workshop about winning a new, better UPS contract. The conclusion we in the breakout reached was that these educational workshops should continue year round over Zoom.

The one aspect of the convention I felt fell short was the meetup for UPS Teamsters afterwards. The meetup heavily focused on issues faced by UPS package car drivers and these are not relevant to a package handler such as myself. I think a meetup for UPS Teamsters is vital given that UPS is the largest single employer of Teamsters but I hope future events also take up issues faced by other job classifications.

The convention concluded with the passage of our resolution on strategic priorities. This resolution calls on TDU to empower rank and file activists, promote POC, women and younger Teamsters as leaders, and transform the Teamsters into a militant progressive union. This resolution was passed by 98%. Now it is up to TDU members to make it a reality.

Originally published on the The Detroit Socialist. The Detroit Socialist is produced and run by members of Detroit DSA’s Newspaper Collective. Interested in becoming a member of Detroit DSA? Go to metrodetroitdsa.com/join to become a member. Send a copy of the dues receipt to: membership@metrodetroitdsa.com in order to get plugged in to our activities! Detroit DSA’s Labor Working Group meets biweekly on Tuesdays at 5PM.