Book Review: Hoffa and the Teamsters

March 8, 2010: A compilation of Teamster press releases can’t be real labor history. But the IBT’s new book, James R Hoffa: Messages to the Membership is worth reading for what it is: how Hoffa and his union staff wanted him presented to the members, and to the public.

Most of it consists of reprints of articles from the Teamster magazine, written by his PR staff over his name or signature. Some of the better pieces are interviews or news clips where Hoffa sounds off to a reporter, as when he refers to FBI agents conducting surveillance by saying “At least they could help me with my baggage once in a while.”

The book shows some weird priorities. A major part of the book consists of Hoffa’s denunciations of the Landrum Griffin Act of 1959, which requires secret ballot elections for local union officers, that LM-2 union financial reports be available to members, and protects dissenting members from being expelled from the union. Hoffa blasts the AFL-CIO repeatedly for failing to block its passage.

Another chapter that you won’t find in most labor history books is called “Wiretapping.” Hoffa lashes out at prosecutors, and most of all President Kennedy and his brother Robert, calling them “shaggy-haired liberals.”

Master Contracts?

Oddly, you don’t find much on Hoffa’s major accomplishments. One would be the Central States Pension Plan. And most of all, his success in building national master contracts, which he regarded as his life’s work and his greatest achievement.

One interview you won’t find in the book is Hoffa’s last one, published in Playboy magazine in 1975, where he states that “There’s no way unions can survive without master contracts…there are no master contracts except the ones I left them.” He goes on to blast Teamster officials “who are too busy on the golf course.”

You can see why that material was not published by his son’s Teamster leadership. Sadly, Hoffa’s son has done more to dismantle master contracts and the Central States Pension Plan than to build them.

You won’t find the story of Hoffa’s downfall in this book. No word that he was convicted by a jury in Chicago in 1964 of fraud for using the union pension fund to line his own pocket (and pass the money on to you-know-who), or that he was also convicted by a jury in Chattanooga of bribing jurors when he was charged with taking payoffs in the carhaul industry.

You also won’t read here that his chosen successor, Frank Fitzsimmons, had briefcases of cash delivered to Nixon administration officials, and then secured a pardon for Hoffa; but with a bar from seeking union office. It was the very real possibility that he would blow the whistle on some of his mob friends in exchange for lifting that bar which got him murdered by his own associates.

You’ll have to read real history books for the fascinating story of Hoffa’s union strategies and the mob penetration of the Teamsters Union.

But here you can find some interesting material from a major figure in Teamster history.

James R. Hoffa: Messages to the Membership is distributed by the International Union.

More to Read

The Hoffa Wars: Teamsters, Rebels, Politicians and the Mob

By Dan Moldea. An inside story with a rank-and-file perspective.

Hoffa and the Teamsters: A Study in Union Power

By Ralph and Estelle James. A sympathetic study of Hoffa, prior to his convictions, imprisonment and murder.

I Heard You Paint Houses

By Charles Brandt. The story of mobster and hit-man Frank Sheeran, and his work for Hoffa. A fascinating read.

Any of the above books can be found online, for example at

Collision: How the Rank & File Took Back the Teamsters

By Ken Crowe. The insider story of the Teamster rank-and-file upsurge. Available (used) from TDU for $20 + $5 shipping and handling.

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