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Political analysis and other daily rants on the state of the nation

Thursday | February 27, 2003

Hoffa lashes out at Bush

It looks like Jimmy Hoffa's flirtations with the Bush Administration are over as the Teamster's leader endured one insult too many. While addressing the AFL-CIO's winter meeting, Labor Secretary Elaine Chao lectured attendees on labor corruption.

Secretary Chao stunned more than 100 labor leaders when, in a response to a question about greater financial disclosure, she read aloud for several minutes about seven criminal cases involving officials from the machinists' union. She brought to the meeting a dossier detailing union-related crimes and she read from it after Thomas Buffenbarger, the machinists' president, asked her why the Bush administration was proposing far stricter financial disclosure rules for labor unions.

"It seemed like a clear attempt at intimidation," said Bruce Raynor, president of the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees. "A lot of people were already feeling angry at the Bush administration, and what she said made things a lot worse."

It looks like Chao took a page out of Bush's Handbook on Diplomatic Relations. Far be it for me to defend union corruption (or any corruption) wherever it exists, but there's a diplomatic way to approach such issues. Attending labor's biggest winter event with a dossier "detailing union-related crimes" is definitely not the way to do it. And in any case, it was the union's own audits that uncovered the corruption Chao was so eager to discuss.

And Hoffa, who had been the centerpiece of Bush's efforts to woo union support, was livid.

Mike Mathis, the Teamsters' political director, said Mr. Hoffa was highly critical of the administration today and had grown increasingly exasperated with moves he views as antiworker, including proposing to open the border to Mexican trucks and tax cuts that give more to the rich.

Mr. Mathis said Mr. Hoffa told the labor leaders: "We worked very hard to develop a relationship with this administration and we have. But especially since the election last November we have seen this administration veer to the right and try to move issues that are antilabor."

Mr. Hoffa added, Mr. Mathis said: "We're disappointed frankly that they don't understand labor issues and labor people. The way the secretary presented herself today was proof of that. We think it's important that the labor movement strengthen its resolve as we go into 2004 to elect a president who understands working people."

Hoffa still refuses to rule out backing Bush in 2004 "if he veers back on track", but it's clear that the Teamsters will soon be safely back in the Democratic Party fold. And given Hoffa's feelings of betrayal, you'd have to think he will be all the more dangerous to Bush.

But beyond Hoffa, it's clear that labor is increasingly motivated to take out Bush in 2004. Speculation that a motivated labor effort in 2002 would help Democrats gain seats in Congress fizzled out, so I'm not about to declare victory.

But another piece of the puzzle has been slipped into place.

Posted February 27, 2003 08:23 AM | Comments (19)


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