Reuther's Polar Opposite

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As Reuther was creating the U.A.W., on the other side of Detroit's Woodward Avenue, in a sparsely furnished second floor walk-up, James Riddle Hoffa was creating a very different kind of union.

Hoffa's International Brotherhood of Teamsters would not only rival the power of the U.A.W., it would also become known as America's most corrupt union. That the two men, almost polar opposites, should have existed in the same city at the same time is not just remarkable. Their differences would define the deepest schism in American labor, splitting the movement into two irreconcilable camps, one progressive and idealistic, the other conservative and avaricious.

While Reuther was a social activist, Hoffa focused on the exercise of power. The U.A.W. was organizing auto factories that had thousands of workers; Hoffa focused on small trucking companies with a simple two-step campaign. He would threaten to bomb employers' trucks if they didn't enroll in his union. Then he carried out the threat. It got results. His organizers took a cut of the dues and initiation fees of every new member. It was a franchise scheme that attracted Mafiosi and created a feudal structure of warlords.

While Reuther embraced politics, Hoffa simply bought influence, paying off policemen, prosecutors and anyone else who stood in the way. His image was cemented forever in 1975 when Hoffa went to a Detroit restaurant to meet several Mafiosi and never returned. He is still revered by members who say they owe their place in the middle class to him, and his legacy lives on. The results of the election campaign his son James P. has waged for his father's old job are expected this month.

--By Edward Barnes

Reuther's Polar Opposites
By Edward Barnes

As Reuther was creating the U.A.W., on the other side of Detroit's Woodward Avenue, in a sparsely furnished second floor walk-up, James Riddle Hoffa was creating a very different kind of union.

Hoffa's International Brotherhood of Teamsters would not only rival the power of the U.A.W., it would also become known as America's most corrupt union.

That the two men, almost polar opposites, should have existed in the same city at the same time is not just remarkable. Their differences would define the deepest schism in American labor, splitting the movement into two irreconcilable camps, one progressive and idealistic, the other conservative and avaricious.

While Reuther was a social activist, Hoffa focused on the exercise of power. The U.A.W. was organizing auto factories that had thousands of workers; Hoffa focused on small trucking companies with a simple two-step campaign. He would threaten to bomb employers' trucks if they didn't enroll in his union. Then he carried out the threat.

It got results. His organizers took a cut of the dues and initiation fees of every new member. It was a franchise scheme that attracted Mafiosi and created a feudal structure of warlords.

While Reuther embraced politics, Hoffa simply bought influence, paying off policemen, prosecutors and anyone else who stood in the way. His image was cemented forever in 1975 when Hoffa went to a Detroit restaurant to meet several Mafiosi and never returned. He is still revered by members who say they owe their place in the middle class to him, and his legacy lives on. The results of the election campaign his son James P. has waged for his father's old job are expected this month.