Sunday, February 12, 2012

George Meany

William George Meany (August 16, 1894 – January 10, 1980) led labor union federations in the United States. As an officer of the American Federation of Labor, he represented the AFL on the National War Labor Board during World War II.

Meany served as President of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) from 1952 to 1955. As President of the AFL, he proposed in 1952 and managed in 1955 its merger with the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). He served as President of the combined AFL-CIO from 1955 to 1979. Meany had a reputation for personal integrity, opposition to corruption and anti-communism. George Meany was called the "most nationally recognized labor leader in the country for the more than two decades spanning the middle of the 20th century."

Meany's "first official act" after becoming head of the AFL in 1952 was to put forward a proposal to merge with the CIO.

Meany took firm control of the AFL immediately upon being elected president, but it took a bit longer for Walter Reuther to solidify his control of the CIO. Reuther was a willing partner in the merger negotiations. It took Meany three years to negotiate the merger, and he had to overcome significant opposition. John L. Lewis of the United Mine Workers called the merger a "rope of sand", and his union refused to join the AFL-CIO. Jimmy Hoffa, then second in command of the Teamster's Union, protested, "What's in it for us? Nothing!", but the Teamsters went along with the merger initially.

Meany's efforts came to fruition in December, 1955 with a joint convention in New York City that merged the two federations, creating the AFL-CIO. The new federation had 15 million members, while two milllion U.S. workers were members of unions outside the AFL-CIO.

Concerns about corruption and the influence of organized crime in the International Brotherhood of Teamsters under the leadership of Dave Beck led Meany to begin an anti-corruption drive in 1956. In 1957, in the midst of a fight for control of the union with Jimmy Hoffa, Beck was called before the United States Senate Select Committee on Improper Activities in Labor and Management, commonly called the "McClellan Committee" after its chairman John L. McClellan of Arkansas. Robert F. Kennedy was chief counsel of the committee.

Televised hearings in early 1957 exposed misconduct by both the Beck and the Hoffa factions of the Teamsters Union. Both Hoffa and Beck were indicted, but Hoffa won the battle for control of the Teamsters. In response, the AFL-CIO instituted a policy that no union official who had taken the Fifth Amendment during a corruption investigation could continue in a leadership position. Meany told the Teamsters that they could continue as members of the AFL-CIO if Hoffa resigned as president. Hoffa refused, and the Teamsters were ousted from the AFL-CIO on December 6, 1957. Meany supported the AFL-CIO's adoption of a code of ethics in the wake of the scandal.

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