Blowhard, Esq. writes:
Friends have noted that in THE IRISHMAN, Scorsese’s biopic of mobster Frank Sheeran, Sheeran comes off as a sort of Forrest Gump-type figure. He killed Hoffa! He ran guns to the guys who killed JFK! Many doubt the veracity of Sheeran’s tales, so who knows. He’s probably full of shit. But, interestingly if predictably, the movie omits a timely Sheeran remembrance of things past: how the Teamsters purportedly kickstarted the career of Joe Biden. It’s included in the book, but I haven’t seen a single reference to the episode in any review, probably because no one reads books anymore.
For your edification, here’s Sheeran’s story as told to author Charles Brandt:
Earlier in the year the incumbent United States Senator Caleb Boggs had stopped by and asked me to allow him to speak to the membership. I told Boggs that he was too much against labor. He denied that he was against labor. He was a Republican and he said that since the Teamsters were supporting Nixon for reelection, he ought to be given a shot to speak to the rank and file. Boggs had been the governor and a congressman before he became senator. I don’t think he ever lost an election. Everybody liked him. He was a very personable man with a good reputation, but as far as I could tell he was for the corporations in Delaware. I took it to the executive board and we decided not to invite him.
When his opponent Joe Biden asked if he could speak to the membership I took it to the executive board and got their feelings about it and nobody opposed it, so I said sure. Biden was on the County Council and he was a Democrat and the County Council had some very good people on it for labor. Joe Biden was a young kid compared to Boggs. He came and gave his spiel and he turned out to be a very good talker. He gave a really good pro-labor speech to the rank and file at that membership meeting. He took questions from the floor and handled himself like somebody many years older. He said his door would always be open to the Teamsters.
So when this prominent lawyer I knew stopped by my office a little before Election Day I was already in Biden’s corner. The lawyer had another guy with him who worked inside the Morning News and the Evening Journal. They were two papers that were put out by the same company. They were basically the same paper and they were the only daily newspapers in Wilmington.
Wilmington is in the very northern part of the state and was more liberal than the southern part. Delaware, being a very small state, had maybe 600,000 people back then. Over half of them lived in the northern county and the rest in the two southern counties. The Mason-Dixon line runs right through Delaware. For years they had segregated schools in the two southern counties. They had some out-and-out segregation in the north too but mostly the north had customs that were more like a northern city like Philadelphia. At that time—and maybe even today—nearly every newspaper buyer in the state read the Wilmington newspaper.
The lawyer explained to me that Senator Boggs had put together some ads that were going to run in an advertising insert in the paper every day for the last week before the election. Boggs was claiming that Joe Biden had distorted Boggs’s voting record, and the ads were going to show what Biden had said about Boggs alongside of Boggs’s actual voting record or whatever. The lawyer didn’t want those newspapers to be delivered. The lawyer was very good people. He was very smart. He was experienced and he knew that both sides of an election played their games. The corporations played plenty of games over the years, telling their workers who to vote for, pulling strings behind the scenes.
The guy who was there who worked on the paper said that he wanted to put up an informational picket line, but he didn’t have any good people that worked with him in the newspaper he could trust to walk the line. I think they had a union already, but this line was going to be for a different union. I told him I would hire some people and put them on the picket line for him. They were people nobody would mess with.
The idea behind an informational picket line is that you’re trying to organize the company, or you’re claiming that the company is unfair and won’t sit down and negotiate with the union, or that the company is putting pressure on the workers not to sign union cards. You might be trying to force an election to replace the union they already have, like Paul Hall and the Seafarers did against Jimmy Hoffa. Any time you see the words “Unfair to Labor” on a picket line that’s an informational picket line. You can’t put on your signs that you’re on strike because you’re not a recognized union yet, and that would violate the rules of the National Labor Relations Board.
I told my friend the lawyer and the guy he had with him that they could count on me to get it handled. I always had a lot of respect for that lawyer and I thought Biden was better for labor anyway. I told him that once we put up the picket line I would see to it that no truck driver crossed that picket line. The Teamsters would honor the informational picket line of the other union, whatever name they used.
The line went up and the newspapers were printed, but they stayed in the warehouse and they never were delivered. The newspaper company called me up and wanted my men to go back to work. I told them we’re honoring the picket line. He asked me if I had anything to do with the blowing up of a railroad car that had material that was going to be used in the printing of the newspaper—whether it was paper or ink or some kind of other supplies, I don’t know. But no people got hurt in the bombing. I told him we’re honoring the picket line, and if he wanted to hire some guards to keep an eye on his railroad cars he should look in the Yellow Pages.
The day after the election the information picket line came down and the newspaper went back to normal and Delaware had a new United States Senator. It’s hard to believe that was over thirty years ago.
There have been things written about this incident and I am always mentioned in them. They say that this maneuver is what got Senator Joe Biden elected. Especially the Republicans say that if those newspaper inserts from the Boggs side got delivered inside the newspapers it would have made Joe Biden look very bad. The Boggs ads coming as they almost did that last week there would have been no time for Biden to repair the damage. I have no way of knowing if Joe Biden knew if that picket line thing was done on purpose on his behalf. If he did know he never let on to me.
I do know that when he became the U.S. Senator, the man stuck by his word he gave to the membership. You could reach out for him and he would listen.