Monday, January 13, 2014
Nowadays if you want to start a revolution, an audience of potential recruits and sympathizers is only a few clicks away on the internet via blogs, email, Facebook, chat rooms, YouTube, Twitter, and the list goes on. How much more difficult such an undertaking was 39 year years ago when a dozen dissident Teamsters gathered in Ken Paff’s living room in Cleveland, spending four hours plotting how to create a national grassroots organization of truck drivers and dock workers, who like them, were dissatisfied with their notoriously corrupt union. I have told this story before, but the courageous, self-sacrificing, and poetic saga of 31-year-old Steve Kindred’s odyssey is worth recounting again and again to illustrate his commitment to reforming the American labor movement, the Teamsters in particular. Chipping in, the dissidents came up with a $100 kitty, which doesn’t sound like much but in that earlier time $89 was enough pay for a ticket allowing 21 days of travel to wherever Greyhound buses went. Kindred, who had the gift of gab, climbed onto a Greyhound in Cleveland’s bus terminal on a dreary April morning in 1975 with only a few dollars in his pocket along with five pounds of Spanish peanuts, three pounds of raisins, and a list of Teamster activists culled from various sources. Can you imagine the ordeal he faced: having to sleep on buses and wash in public restrooms, lingering in bus terminals waiting for the targeted Teamster member to show up or the bus to the next city, hoping the person he was meeting would treat him to a meal. And, there was always the possibility of getting his head bashed in. Kindred had been beaten up by thugs at the 1972 Teamsters convention. The affable, loquacious Kindred, who had attended the University of Chicago before being expelled for his role as a student activist, had been a taxi driver and a truck driver, which earned him the right to his audience. Those he spoke to in the 22 cities he reached (including Dallas, Memphis, Little Rock, Oklahoma City, Kansas City, Chicago, St. Louis and Los Angeles) were to form the nucleus of Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU), created in 1976 to battle the business unionists and outright criminals running the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. Teamsters for a Democratic Union, which is the union’s reform party, has compiled an admirable record of accomplishments through the years including fighting off contract giveaways and being directly responsible for both getting the rank and file the right to vote for the union’s hierarchy and for the election of Ron Carey to the presidency of the IBT in 1992. As the years went by, Kindred moved to New York City where he worked as a truck driver continuing his calling as an advocate for workers. He was most recently involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement. Kindred, who had a life worth living, died from cancer this past Dec. 9. He will be honored at a memorial at 4:00 p.m. on Feb. 8, a Saturday, at the Murphy Center/ CUNY Labor Studies Dep’t, 25 West 43rd Street, between 5th and 6th Avenues, in New York. Perhaps, I’ll see you there.