September 19, 2013: On this weekend in 1976, a small group of courageous Teamsters met in Kent, Ohio, to form Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU). They had little going for them except guts, principles, and a vision of a union driven by rank and file power.
At the time of TDU's founding, the IBT General Executive Board and many local unions were dominated by organized crime. Contracts could be imposed even if the majority voted against them. Members who spoke up could be met with violent intimidation. Teamster General President (and FBI informant) Jackie Presser organized the Brotherhood of Loyal Americans and Strong Teamsters (BLAST) goon squad to attack TDU meetings and the founding Convention. Presser announced at the 1986 Teamster Convention that "Today you've just witnessed the funeral of TDU." The following year, he was indicted for racketeering while TDU grew.
TDU has since become the longest-lived, most successful rank and file movement in U.S. labor history. Many labor historians have noted TDU’s role in winning rights, cutting mob influence in the Teamsters, and giving rank and file Teamsters a voice.
That struggle continues today, because there is a lot more history to make.
Click here to join TDU and help us to keep making Teamster history.
Read a four-part history of TDU and the Teamsters Union.
Read the contract voting rights TDU members have won for all Teamsters.