Hearing What Jim Hoffa Actually Said

by on January 13th, 2015
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Teamster Union President Jim Hoffa’s comments on Labor Day, 2011 have been the subject of controversy since they were uttered. Tea Party members have described his speech as an incitement to violence against them. That assertion is merely an attempt to derail union leadership’s attempts to rally their members around a voting strategy. This article is a call for people to behave rationally rather than being unduly influenced by spin.

Mr. Hoffa is certainly an impassioned speaker. He leads a major labor union. With labor unions are under legislative siege it’s not surprising that he speaks with great emotion and emphasis. He describes the class conflict between the affluent classes and the labor classes with the word “war.” He calls for a march, labels union members as “Obama’s Army” and suggests that they “take out” opposing politicians. Within the context of his speech none of this is a call to violence.

The word “war” here is used in the sense of “class warfare.” That’s a common social-political term. It does not describe physical conflict. It only describes economic conflict and as such is not a threat of violence.

Describing his call to “march” as a call to violence is unjustified. A political march is more akin to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s marches for equal rights. Marches are peaceful demonstrations in support of, or in opposition to, political ideas.

Describing union members as Obama’s “Army” is similar to calling a bunch of guys in Santa Claus suits the Salvation “Army.” Until ringing a bell and asking for donations to charity is a violent act the simple use of the term “army” is not a call to violence. It’s just a word used to denote a large group committed to an election goal.

Reminding union members to “take out” their political opposition is not a call to violence during a speech about voting. Mr. Hoffa was calling for union members to vote opposing politicians from office. In this case the phrase “take out” is no more violent than it would be in the sentence, “Take out the trash barrel.”

Jim Hoffa’s encouragement to union members to vote is commendable. It’s just like any other group trying to get its members to the ballot box. The Tea Party will probably rally its members to vote. That’s no more a physical threat to union members than union votes are to Tea Partiers. The only threat to either group is the erosion of their power base if their favored candidates lose elections in November.

Please, America, let’s stop giving any more air time to calls for retractions or other wasteful uses of our time. Cast your votes in November because you’ve reasoned out why you want to support a particular candidate, party, or ideal – not because sound bites swayed your judgment.

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