Jimmy Hoffa, Fighting Like His Father

By Jeffrey Goldberg

In Goldblog's universe, this is a good thing, not a bad thing. I'm a former dues-paying member of the Teamsters myself (I drove a forklift before I got glasses, which was a problem, because I probably could have used the glasses while driving the forklift), and I've always thought that Jimmy Hoffa, Sr. did a tremendous amount for the working man, until he started ripping off his union's pension funds. The son, Jimmy Jr. (he's not actually a junior, but everyone calls him that), has been surprisingly effective as the current Teamster president, and he's showing signs of his father's pugnaciousness, most recently at a Labor Day rally where he attempted to fire up the president to fight for working people. This New York Sun editorial about Hoffa's recent outburst brought to mind some fond memories of covering the union in the 1990s:


One of the questions that tugged at us on Labor Day is what would have been made of America's current crisis by Jimmy Hoffa. We're not speaking of the incumbent president of the Teamsters, James P. Hoffa, who, over the weekend at a labor rally at Detroit, warmed up the crowd for President Obama. Rather of the his father, James Riddle Hoffa, who built the International Brotherhood of Teamsters into such an enormous power by the mid-20th century that Robert Kennedy, wrongly in our view, considered it a threat to America.

"My father was a very different person than myself," James P. Hoffa told Jeffrey Goldberg of the New York Times when, in the late 1990s, he was seeking to become president of the union his father built. "I'm my own person. My father was born in 1913. He lived through the Depression. He came up through the school of hard knocks. I'm not going to war with anyone." Yet two days ago, over Labor Day weekend, here was the same James P. Hoffa declaring, "President Obama, this is your army. We are ready to march. Let's take these sons of bitches out..."

What would Hoffa, the father, have made of this? He spent his early decades battling against employers, using a combination of violence and inspiring leadership and an extraordinary, even uncanny, intelligence in respect of collective bargaining. Our own theory is that whatever else he was, Hoffa Senior was just smarter than his adversaries. He was brought down by a vendetta of Robert Kennedy, who, in what became a personal feud, marshaled all the prosecutorial powers of the federal government to put Hoffa in prison, where he stood until President Nixon commuted his sentence while barring him from returning to the union.


This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/09/jimmy-hoffa-fighting-like-his-father/244647/