George Meaney - History

George Meaney - History

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George Meaney

1894- 1980

U.S. Labor Leader

Labor leader George Meany was born in New York City in 1894 and became a plumber at the age of 16. He joined a union in 1922, then moved from the Plumber's Union to the American Federation of Labor (AFL).

He became president of the New York branch in 1934, and secretary-treasurer of the national union six years later. In 1952, Meany succeeded William Green as president of the AFL and was a major force in the merging of the AFL with the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) in 1955.

Meany was the first president of the AFL-CIO, and was reelected without opposition. He was a dedicated anticommunist and supporter of US involvement in the Vietnam War.

This led him to defy the union tradition of supporting Democrats when he refused to support George McGovern's 1972 Presidential candidacy because of McGovern's anti-war platform.

Meany later became a critic of President Carter's policies.

George Meany

George Meany (1894 -1980) was one of America's most powerful labor leaders during the 20th century. He was president of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) from 1955 to 1979.

George Meany was born on Aug. 16, 1894, in New York City. He inherited his dedication to the trade union movement from his father, who was president of a local plumbers' union. When George had to leave high school because of difficult family circumstances, he chose his father's trade. After a 5-year apprenticeship, he received his journeyman plumber's certificate in 1915.

In 1922 Meany was elected business agent of his union local. Although unionism did not thrive during the 1920s, Meany steadily broadened his activities within the building trades. President of the New York State Federation of Labor (1934-1939), he took advantage of the progressive mood of Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal by helping enact more pro-labor bills and social reform measures than had previously been passed in the entire history of the New York Legislature. In 1939 Meany was elected secretary treasurer of the American Federation of Labor (AFL).

During World War II Meany served on the War Labor Board and represented the AFL on Roosevelt's committee to draw up wartime labor policy. He also served on a special committee that the president regularly consulted on labor-management problems. After the war Meany helped establish the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, which contributed to the success of the Marshall Plan for the rehabilitation of war-torn Europe.

In November 1952 Meany was chosen president of the AFL. Three years later he was unanimously elected president of the newly combined AFL-CIO at its first convention. He was consistently reelected without opposition.

Throughout his career Meany was interested in reform, both within the labor movement and society at large. He initiated the first major attacks on corruption in the unions and was responsible for establishing a code of ethical practices for all union affiliates. He also took important steps toward eliminating racial discrimination in the labor movement. Under Meany's leadership, the AFL-CIO vigorously supported the Occupational Safety and Health Act, designed to protect employees from dangerous work conditions. The act became law in 1970.

Meany put the full political force of the labor movement behind efforts to enact civil rights legislation. Without the trade union movement's support, none of the civil rights bills passed during the 1960s would have gone through Congress. The results of these bills testify to the persisting relevance of the labor movement and to Meany's social vision.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower twice appointed Meany a U.S. delegate to the United Nations General Assembly, and Meany received numerous awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1963). George Meany died on January 10, 1980, at the age of 86.

What was he jailed for?

In 2009, Floyd served a five-year prison sentence as part of a plea deal on the 2007 charge of aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon, reports the Houston Chronicle.

One of his Houston pals, Ronnie Lillard, told the BBC that he became involved in his local ministry, Resurrection Houston, after being freed from jail.

Determined to change himself and help improve his neighbourhood, "Big Floyd" - as he was known - "embraced his own life change [and] he was looking around at his community," Lillard added.

Floyd's ex, Roxie Washington, told reporters: "People mistake him because he was so big that they thought he was always a fighting person, but he was a loving person."

Washington - mum of one of his three kids - said that their six-year-old daughter, Gianna, was "proof that he was a good man.

She said: "I still have a picture of him waking up and getting his baby."

Meany, George

Meany, George ( 16 August 1894–10 January 1980 ), labor leader , was born in New York City, the son of Michael J. Meany and Anne Cullen, both of whom were American-born children of Irish families that had migrated to the United States during the early 1850s. In 1899 the Meanys moved across the East River to a comfortable working-class neighborhood in the Bronx, where George (the first name on his birth certificate, William, seems never to have been used) grew up. Mike Meany was a plumber, and against his father’s hopes for something better for his son, George Meany chose to follow in his father’s footsteps. He left school at fourteen, worked for over a year as a messenger for an advertising agency, and in 1910 was taken on as a plumber’s helper. He was inducted into Local 463 as a journeyman plumber in early 1917. By then his father had died, and when his older brother left for the army in April 1917 he became the sole supporter of his large family. In 1919, after a prolonged courtship, he married Eugenie McMahon, a garment worker. They had three daughters and a happy home life, which Meany assiduously shielded from his public career as a rising labor leader.

Initially, Meany was not much interested in union affairs, but his father had been an active local officer, and when George decided to run for the executive board in 1919, being Mike Meany’s son won him the seat. Three years later Meany was elected a business agent—a full-time position—and although he was a first-class plumber he never worked at his trade again. Local 463 was an archetypal building craft union, usually open only to relatives of members, functioning as the organizing agency of the local labor market in conjunction with the contracters’ association and concerned primarily with protecting the job interests of its members. The business agent had strictly bread-and-butter duties: he protected the local’s jurisdiction, maintained union standards at construction sites, and settled disputes.

Meany proved to be an ace business agent, but his horizons quickly expanded. In the early 1920s the New York construction trades were wracked by corruption: to cope with the situation, the American Federation of Labor (AFL) in 1923 chartered a new building trades council. Meany, a proponent of clean unionism, became the secretary and thus was thrust into the center of building trade politics in the city. In 1932 he became the building trades’ delegate to the New York central labor council and, more important, was elected to the executive board of the New York State Federation of Labor.

The Great Depression was forcing the AFL to abandon its historic voluntarism, a shift signaled particularly by its advocacy of unemployment insurance from 1932 onward. Meany played a key role in fashioning an unemployment bill in Albany and sold it to the 1934 state convention with the kind of speech that became his hallmark—plainspoken and incisive. The speech capped his vigorous campaign for the presidency of the state federation. This full-time post enabled Meany to resign his job as plumber’s business agent and begin a lifetime vocation as labor politician and federation leader.

His stint as head of the New York movement shaped Meany as a labor leader. He examined and put on firmer intellectual ground his roots in labor’s pure-and-simple traditions. He studied Samuel Gompers ’s speeches, schooled himself in the AFL founder’s labor philosophy, and late in life could still quote copiously from the Gompers canon. Meany was staunchly anti-Communist and opposed to any form of independent labor politics. In the battle over industrial unionism that came to a head in 1935, Meany recognized that the AFL leadership was blundering badly, but he opposed the formation of the Committee on Industrial Organization as a dual movement.

On the other hand, Meany became a New Dealer. The 1934 elections had created an exceptional opportunity in New York State: for the first time in over two decades, both houses were in Democratic hands, and the governor was the liberal Democrat Herbert Lehman . In the 1935 session, Meany later said, “we put more legislation on the statute books … in favor of labor than … in any period before or since by any other state”—including a model unemployment insurance act, reform of workman’s compensation, and fourteen other major bills. The mix of roles—Meany the craft unionist (who still opposed the minimum wage for men at this point) and the New Dealer—was perhaps best exemplified by the successful strike he orchestrated in New York City in 1935 against the Works Progress Administration for refusing to pay the standard union rate to craft workers.

Meany was happy in his work and did not expect to go any higher. He knew that being the head of a state federation was a dead-end job in the American labor movement because the state federations lie outside the real power structure dominated by national unions. But Meany had caught the eye of the national chieftains, and with the aged AFL secretary-treasurer Frank Morrison about to retire in 1940, they tapped Meany as his successor. Initially, Meany did not think he had gotten much of a promotion. His constitutional functions were routine, and AFL president William Green (1870–1952) jealously reserved for himself the important work of making labor’s case on Capitol Hill and at the White House. But events soon conspired to give Meany a larger stage.

After Pearl Harbor the AFL needed a strong voice in the wartime administration, which Meany provided as senior labor member of the War Labor Board. More important in the long run, Meany became the architect of an activist international role for the AFL. The key was his unrelenting anti-Communism, which was rooted in union voluntarism. For Meany, the litmus test of any political regime was whether it permitted independent trade unionism, so he remained, even during the Grand Alliance of World War II, an inveterate enemy of the Soviet Union. During the war the AFL began to send missions to Europe to aid in the setting up of non-Communist unions, and when the World Federation of Trade Unions was formed in early 1945 the AFL boycotted it because of the participation of Soviet unions. As the Cold War deepened, other western labor movements, as well as the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), came over to the AFL’s position and, with the AFL in the van, created the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions in 1949. Meany was an instrumental figure in this battle, supporting the vigorous pursuit of Harry S. Truman ’s Cold War policies.

Meany led the fight against the Taft-Hartley Act (1947), which the labor movement considered to be anti-union, and after its passage he helped expand the federation’s political activities, which had consisted of little more than letters of commendation to prolabor candidates. With the creation of Labor’s League for Political Education in December 1947, the federation joined the CIO as a major player in American electoral politics, bringing to bear large financial and organizational resources on behalf of candidates who supported labor’s agenda. In 1948 labor contributed significantly to Truman’s upset victory. Although the AFL was for practical purposes now allied with the Democratic party, Meany insisted that the federation was not departing from, but only invigorating, labor’s traditional nonpartisanship.

If there were any lingering doubts about Meany’s fitness for leadership, they were dissipated in a famous exchange between him and John L. Lewis at the 1947 AFL convention. The issue was the non-Communist affidavit required of union officers by Taft-Hartley. Lewis refused to sign and delivered a withering tongue-lashing against the AFL leaders for failing this test of their manhood. In response, Meany coolly enumerated what Lewis’s heroics would cost the unions and then, moving to the offensive, blasted Lewis for having brought on the hated affidavit by recruiting Communists as CIO organizers during the 1930s. No one in memory had ever bested the fearsome Lewis in open debate Meany’s performance earned him widespread gratitude and marked his as the strong voice that the AFL sorely needed. When William Green died in 1952, it was a foregone conclusion that Meany would be his successor at age fifty-eight he assumed the presidential office that, for practical purposes, he was already filling.

Meany’s first task as president was to restore unity to the labor movement. He pushed through a no-raiding agreement with the CIO in 1953, opening the way to a solution of the key institutional problem: the rival jurisdictional claims by AFL and CIO unions. Since these could not be untangled, Meany proposed that the status quo simply be accepted, and insofar as overlapping jurisdictions created problems, these would be resolved over time by mutual consent of the interested parties. Meany also navigated through (or around) the factional quarrels roiling both federations and, despite prickly personal relations, worked well enough with the new CIO president Walter Reuther to solve a multitude of vexing issues. Because the AFL was twice the size of the CIO, there was no question that Meany would retain the presidency. In 1955 the merger was consummated, and labor’s twenty-year civil war finally ended.

The next decade saw Meany truly in his element. The political machinery of the AFL-CIO grew formidable in these years. Operating through the Committee on Public Education (COPE), the AFL-CIO became the most important single electoral resource available to the Democratic party. Programmatically, Meany was committed to social unionism, which meant labor’s adoption of the larger cause of social justice as its own. This meant a commitment to Keynesian policies as the key to sustained economic growth and an ambitious expansion of federal social welfare programs. Not much headway was possible under the Eisenhower administration (although Meany was on amicable terms with the president), but with the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960, labor’s prospects brightened. Initially suspicious of Kennedy’s successor, Meany found in Lyndon Johnson the presidential leadership he had been waiting for, and he played a central part in pushing through Johnson’s Great Society program.

Meany was an early and consistent supporter of the civil rights movement, but he was cautious about confronting racial injustice within the labor movement and was not sensitive to the crusading dimensions of the civil rights struggle. It was Walter Reuther, not Meany, who spoke for labor at the March on Washington in 1963. But in the halls of Congress, Meany was a determined and effective partisan for civil rights. He stressed particularly the need for legislative action against job discrimination, in part because he knew that the labor movement lacked the capacity to root out discriminatory practices within its own ranks. It was his doing, more than anyone else’s, that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 contained its far-reaching prohibition against job discrimination.

Meany was, if anything, even more enthusiastic about President Johnson the cold warrior. He fully backed the war in Vietnam, clung to that position when it destroyed Johnson’s presidency, and afterward transferred his anti-Communist loyalties to Richard Nixon (while opposing his domestic policies). He felt betrayed when Nixon initiated the movement toward detente with the USSR and China in 1971.

The cultural revolution that swept the country during the Vietnam years deepened the isolation of the AFL-CIO and intensified the divisiveness within its ranks. Deeply conservative in his personal values, Meany was repelled by the sight of long-haired hippies and student radicals he had little sympathy for the rioters beaten by the Chicago police outside the Democratic convention hall in 1968. When the Democrats nominated George McGovern in 1972, Meany—and hence the official AFL-CIO—withheld support and sat out the election.

In his final years, George Meany seemed to embody the faults of a declining labor movement, or what were perceived as faults by its critics: remoteness from the rank and file, complacency in the face of shrinking power and numbers, an ambiguous stance toward the claims of minorities and women, and rigidity in an age of sweeping cultural and economic change. Yet it was also true that, with his Bronx accent and gruff manner, his absence of pretence and his outspoken, uncompromising views, the Meany that Americans saw on television and that presidents confronted at the White House conveyed something of the enduring strength of organized working people in America. When the Watergate scandals broke, the AFL-CIO was the first major organization to call for Nixon’s resignation. In 1974, in a memorable interview, Meany acknowledged that he had been wrong about Vietnam, that he had been lied to and misled, and that the AFL-CIO had learned a hard lesson about the trustworthiness of governments.

When he finally left office in November 1979, Meany was past eighty-five he died within two months in Washington, D.C. Many thought he had long outlasted his time, but no national voice for labor’s cause replaced Meany’s in the increasingly hard times the union movement experienced following his death.


Meany’s official papers are deposited at the George Meany Center for Labor Studies, Silver Spring, Md. His formal positions are best studied in the convention proceedings of the New York State Federation of Labor (1932–1939), the AFL (1940–1954), and the AFL-CIO (1955–1979). Joseph C. Goulden, Meany: The Unchallenged Strong Man of American Labor (1972), a knowledgeable and sympathetic biography, covers Meany’s life in detail up to 1972. Archie Robinson, George Meany and His Times (1981), is essentially an oral history drawing on extended interviews with Meany and others. There is an incisive briefer account by Robert H. Zieger, “George Meany: Labor’s Organization Man,” in Labor Leaders in America, ed. Melvyn Dubofsky and Warren Van Tine (1987). The institutional setting for Meany’s career as federation leader is fully treated in Philip Taft, The AFL from the Death of Gompers to the Merger (1959). For a more recent synthesis, see Robert H. Zieger, American Workers, American Unions, 1920–1985 (1986).

George Meany, 85, Giant of U.S. Labor Movement

George Meany, the symbol as well as the leader of the American labor movement for much of the 20th century, died of cardiac arrest last night at George Washington University Hospital. He was 85.

Meany, a onetime Bronx plumber, was the first president of the AFL-CIO. He helped form the organization in 1955 through a union of the American Federation of Labor, of which he already was president, and the Congress of Industrial Organizations. He remained president of the merged organization until his reitrement last November.

Al Zack, a spokesman for the AFL-CIO, said Meany had been admitted to the hospital Sunday for treatment of a buildup of fluid in his legs. He said the labor leader's condition worsened last night and that he was moved to the intensive-care unit.

As leader of the AFL-CIO, Meany was one of the most powerful, colorful and enduring fixtures on the American political scene. He scolded presidents, lobbied Congress and held court for visiting digniatries at the imposing AFL-CIO headquarters overlooking the White House.

Great as was the power -- and the prestige -- of George Meany, the organization to which he devoted his life was losing power at the time he stepped down. Teamsters, auto workers and coal miners were outside the AFL-CIO umbrella. Dissenting voices were being heard increasingly within the federation.

These problems did not detract from the place Meany carved for himself in the history of the American labor movement.

He was not the innovator of the creative idealist as represented by his late rival, Walter P. Reuther (1907-1970), president of the United Auto Workers, who also headed the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) before its merger with the AFL.

He had neither the awesome militance nor organizational genius of John Llewelyn Lewis (1880-1969), for 41 years head of the United Mine Workers and founder of the CIO.

He was not an inspirational idealogue such as Eugene Victor Debs (1855-1926), the pioneering unionist who went to jail for his part in the bloody Pullman strike in 1894 and again for a pacifist speech in World War I, and who ran for president four times on the Socialist ticket.

"Ideology is baloney," Meany once said. "There can be no ideological differences among real trade unionists."

Among the labor greats, Meany probably most resembled Samuel Gompers (1850-1924), the founder and first president of the American Federation of Labor. (Meany was the fourth).

Like Gompers, Meany disdained formal ties with government or political parties, believed in rewarding labor's friends and punishing its enemies, and viewed the meat and potatoes issues of wages and working conditions as trade unionism's prime concern.

Mr. Meany was a conservator, a synthesizer, a stabilizer: He built on the edifice that had already been established when he came to power. With help from Reuther, he sought to bring back organized labor, badly fragmented over the preceding 20 years, under one roof.

He detested radicals, intellectual phonies, hippies and communists. No matter how acerbic his comments might have been on the business community and its profits, he was devoted to the capitalistic system and free enterprise. aHe was middle America.

During his entire career, Meany never went to jail for union activity, never walked a picket line, never led a strike.

In later years, in fact, he wondered out loud if strikes may not have outlived their usefulness and become too costly. He suggested that labor and management might well explore the alternative of voluntary arbitration -- the prior agreement to abide by terms set by a third party on deadlocked issues -- but acknowledged that such a solution lay well in the future.

Privately he worried about excessive pay increases, and he once referred to those "crazy" wage boosts in the building trades from which he sprang. (They were then running at a 15 percent annual average). This concern might help explain his motivation in pledging labor cooperation with any equitable system of wage and price controls five years before they were ultimately invoked by President Nixon.

It also illustrates one difference he would have had with Gompers. Asked once what labor really wanted, Gompers simply replied, "More." Meany, whose appreciation of economics sharpened with the years, would have regarded that answer as simplistic.

Although Meany may have preferred accommodation -- within the house of labor itself with business with whatever administration might be in the White House -- appeasement was not in him.

He was tough, blunt, undiplomatic at times ruggedly honest and stubbornly uncompromising when he felt labor had been wronged -- as he did under Mr. Nixon's wage stabilization program.

He had differed with presidents before. He opposed a third term for Franklin D. Roosevelt went to the mat with Harry S. Truman over stabilization policy in the Korean War challenged Dwight D. Eisenhower to demonstrate his professed concern for interest and fought Lyndon B. Johnson on the minimum wage law.

John F. Kennedy was the only president who did not feel the rough side of his tongue at one time or another. Meany denounced Gerald R. Ford's economic policies and accused him of "government by veto."

He supported Jimmy Carter over Ford in 1976, but Carter was only a few months into his administration before Meany was accusing him of insensitivity to working people.

He stood by Nixon's prosecution of the war in Vietnam and held the AFL-CIO officially neutral in the 1972 presidential campaign because of his opposition to the Democratic candidate, Sen. George McGovern. But he was among the first prominent Americans to demand Nixon's impeachment because of Watergate.

While John L. Lewis could cut an adversary dead with a fierce, leonine scowl and a well-turned Biblical or Shakespearean phrase, Meany could produce nearly the same effect with a blank stare, his heavy eyelids drooping over steely blue-grey eyes, his bulldog jaws clamped on the omnipresent cigar.

And his contempt could be monumental when he suspected insincerity, as when Nixon outlined his program to control wages and prices at the AFL-CIO convention in Miami in 1971. "We will now proceed with Act II," said Meany, amidst thunderous applause from the delegates.

Some saw as Meany's greatest accomplishment the negotiations that reunited the AFL and the CIO in 1955, less than three years after Meany had succeeded William Green as AFL president on the latter's death.

The CIO had been founded within the AFL in 1935 to promote the concept of industrial or "vertical" unionism -- the organization of all workers in a single industry, such as autos or steel, into a single union.

The top leadership of the AFL -- which largely represented craft or "horizontal" unionism in which workers are organized by separate trades -- refused to give its blessing to the splinter group and banished its nine constituent unions.

All efforts to bring the two groups back together in the succeeding years failed until Meany and Reuther got together. After the merger, the demarcation line between craft and industrial unions became progressively blurred, with Meany's encouragement. Today, differences still persist but they are no longer crucial.

It is a matter of historical irony that the two men who brought the two big labor organizations back together (although Lewis's mine workers have not returned) would ultimately have a falling out. If the merger was a major triumph for Meany, it was a keen disappointment to him when Walter Reuther pulled his United Auto Workers, the nation's second largest union, out of the AFL-CIO in 1968. (Technically, the UAW was suspended for nonpayment of dues.)

The Teamsters, another of the big unions, had been ejected from the AFL-CIO in 1967 for violation of the organization's ethical standards. Several smaller unions were similarly dealt with at about the same time. Nothing more outraged Meany than evidence of dishonesty in the management of union funds unless it was generalized and unfounded charges of wrongdoing by honest union officials.

Meany never lost sight of organized labor's primary function -- to protect the wages, hours and working conditions of union members. But he recognized that labor's ability to perform this function depended upon a favorable political and economic climate in the nation and even in the world.

Under his leadership, the AFL-CIO immersed itself in politics, lobbying Congress and successive administrations and supporting candidates of its choice for public office. It involved itself in the affairs of the United Nations and spoke out on issues seemingly far removed from labor's immediate concerns.

Meany came to leadership of the American labor movement the step-by-step way.Son of Michael Meany, president of the Bronx local of the plumbers union, young George Meany dropped out of high school when the family fortunes required his help and served a five-year apprenticeship in his father's trade.

He flunked the journeyman's examination the first time he took it, but passed it six months later to become a certified craftsman in 1915. The experience may have accounted for his life-long defense of the apprenticeship system.

Years later, when accused of condoning extended apprenticeships as a way of discriminating against minorities, he denied the charge but conceded that it might have been justified in the earlier days of craft unionism. In his youth, he said, the unions discriminated, but "even-handedly -- against everybody." He once told a friend that to enter some New York unions early in this century, one had to be not only Irish but from the right county in Ireland.

Seven years after completing his apprenticeship, Meany was elected business agent of his local and soon became active in Central Trades, the agency of the building crafts. This led to his advancement in 1934 to the presidency of the New York State Federation of Labor. After five years in this office he came to Washington as secretary-treasurer of the AFL. Upon the death of William Green in 1952, Meany was unanimously elected president. He was regularly reelected for the rest of his life always unopposed.

It took three years for Meany and Reuther to bring about an amalgamation of the AFL and CIO. Then followed 10 years of sometimes bitter rivalry between these two allies. At the time the rapprochement was achieved Meany represented AFL unions with 10 million members to Reuther's CIO with 5 million.

A conformation between Meany and Lewis at the 66th AFL convention in San Francisco in 1947 was probably the most important single episode of Meany's career.

Lewis was a bear of a man, a powerful orator and a commanding figure in any company. The question before the convention had to do with labor's response to the Taft-Hartley law which the unions had called a "slave labor act." Among the provisions they found obnoxious was a requirement that union officials sign affidavits of loyalty. The executive council had recommended compliance with the law.

Lewis demanded recognition and walked with dramatic deliberation to the rostrum through rows of hushed delegates. He surveyed his audience, bushy brows bristling, fists clenched, an outraged presence. His opening line was "Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth on my corn." He would never, he said, endure the indignity of signing a loyalty oath. the effect was electrifying, but it failed to electrify George Meany.

He removed the cigar from his mouth, walked briskly to the podium and replied to Lewis in matter-of-fact Bronxese. "We know," he said "it (Taft-Hartley) is a bad law, but it was placed on the statute books under the American democratic system, and the only way it is going to be changed is under that system . . . Refusing to sign the anticommunist affidavits would not make the law unoperative . . . this delegate will go along. He won't pick up his bat and ball and go home.

Meany carried the convention and from that day on his influence expanded. It is doubtful whether the loyalty oath was the most objectionable feature of Taft-Hartley to Meany. He has been, and remained, uncompromisingly opposed to communism and Communists in all their guises.

Meany's anticommunism, considered obsessive by his critics on the left has been attributed by some to his Catholicism, by others to the influence of the AFL adviser on international affairs, Jay Lovestone, former high ranking American Communist turned anticommunist with the characteristic zeal of the convert. Meany had his own explanation.He had noted, he said, that free trade unionism was the first victim of every totalitarian regime whether Communist or Fascist, and that once it was destroyed other freedoms tumbled like tenpins.

The success of the Marshall Plan in Western Europe owed much more to the exertions of Meany and his associates than was ever recognized. The plan was violently opposed by the Soviet Union after it had refused an invitation to participate, and affiliated Communist parties, especially in France and Italy, followed the Moscow lead. Deliveries were impeded for a time by sabotage on the docks, Defenses against this were organized by representatives of American labor working with their foreign affiliates, thanks in large measure to Meany's "obsession."

Meany was on his way up in the labor movement but he had not yet arrived at the time of the unions struggles during the Great Depression to secure government guarantees of their rights to organize freely and bargain collectively.

President Roosevelt's National Recovery Act was a temporary boom to labor organizations and subsequently the Wagner Act made it permanent. It was the [WORD ILLEGIBLE] the Second World War and the Cold War rather than Depression that tempered and conditioned Meany's leadership.

This doubtless accounted for his enduring suspicion of the Communist powers his support of the war in Vietnam, and even the Nixon-ordered American [WORD ILLEGIBLE] into Cambodia. Meany once called Nixon's handling of the Vietnam situation the only plus he has, and added that this might be wiped out by his visit to mainland China.

Meany's attacks on President Nixon's economic policies were characteristically sharp and frontal. But this time they were recorded on television cameras and their victim was the President of the United States. They therefore attracted more than usual attention. He described Nixon's anti-inflation and recovery policy as Robin Hood in reverse robbing the poor to help the rich, a form of socialism for big business, a great raid on the federal Treasury."

Meany joined with liberals in a denunciation of Vice President Spiro Agnew as another Joseph McCarthy, and supported many liberal causes, Yet he expressed fear at one point that the Democratic Party was being taken over by the so-called liberals of the new left and that it was in danger of becoming the party of extremists.

For the last year, Meany's health had deteriorated. His wife of 59 years the former Eugenia A. McMahon, a onetime dress-factory worker of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, died last March. Shortly after her death, Meany suffered a knee injury that aggravated an arthritic condition in his hip.

The ailment left him grunt, pale and confined to a wheelchair. He was forced to stay away from his office for most of the year.

His survivors include three daughters.

After the 1971 Miami convention at which he criticized Nixon's economic policies and thereby drew criticism in the press, one of his granddaughters, Ellen Lutz, then 12, wrote a letter to The Washington Post. She said that whatever anybody else might say about Meany, he was a "good granddaddy."

F.D.R. Warned Us About Public Sector Unions

James Sherk is the Bradley fellow in labor policy at the Center for Data Analysis at the Heritage Foundation.

Updated July 23, 2014, 4:19 PM

“It is impossible to bargain collectively with the government.”

That wasn’t Newt Gingrich, or Ron Paul, or Ronald Reagan talking. That was George Meany -- the former president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O -- in 1955. Government unions are unremarkable today, but the labor movement once thought the idea absurd.

The founders of the labor movement viewed unions as a vehicle to get workers more of the profits they help create. Government workers, however, don’t generate profits. They merely negotiate for more tax money. When government unions strike, they strike against taxpayers. F.D.R. considered this “unthinkable and intolerable.”

Government collective bargaining means voters do not have the final say on public policy. Instead their elected representatives must negotiate spending and policy decisions with unions. That is not exactly democratic – a fact that unions once recognized.

George Meany was not alone. Up through the 1950s, unions widely agreed that collective bargaining had no place in government. But starting with Wisconsin in 1959, states began to allow collective bargaining in government. The influx of dues and members quickly changed the union movement’s tune, and collective bargaining in government is now widespread. As a result unions can now insist on laws that serve their interests – at the expense of the common good.

Union contracts make it next to impossible to reward excellent teachers or fire failing ones. Union contracts give government employees gold-plated benefits – at the cost of higher taxes and less spending on other priorities. The alternative to Walker's budget was kicking 200,000 children off Medicaid.

What Meaney family records will you find?

There are 19,000 census records available for the last name Meaney. Like a window into their day-to-day life, Meaney census records can tell you where and how your ancestors worked, their level of education, veteran status, and more.

There are 4,000 immigration records available for the last name Meaney. Passenger lists are your ticket to knowing when your ancestors arrived in Australia, and how they made the journey - from the ship name to ports of arrival and departure.

There are 3,000 military records available for the last name Meaney. For the veterans among your Meaney ancestors, military collections provide insights into where and when they served, and even physical descriptions.

There are 19,000 census records available for the last name Meaney. Like a window into their day-to-day life, Meaney census records can tell you where and how your ancestors worked, their level of education, veteran status, and more.

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There are 3,000 military records available for the last name Meaney. For the veterans among your Meaney ancestors, military collections provide insights into where and when they served, and even physical descriptions.

George Meaney - History

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George Meany was one of the most influential labor leaders in American history. He served as president of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) from 1952 to 1955, and was the president of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) from 1955 until his retirement in 1979.

The merger of the AFL and CIO in 1955 brought together most of the major unions in the United States. Meany was born in 1894 in New York City. He became a plumber's apprentice at age sixteen and at age twenty-two became a journeyman with Local 463. His career as a union leader began in 1922 when he became business agent for his local. The following year he was elected secretary-treasurer of the New York State Building Trades Council.

Early in the Roosevelt administration, Meany was elected president of the New York State Federation of Labor. He was chosen secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of Labor in 1939 and served in that position until succeeding William Green as federation president in 1952. During the twenty-seven years he served as president of the AFL-CIO, Meany lobbied successfully for Medicare and Medicaid, for increases in the minimum wage, and for inclusion of the workplace in the areas covered by the Civil Rights Act.

History of the CIO

An enduring question—whether union organization should be based on craft (skill) or industry (workplace)—became a divisive issue at the American Federation of Labor’s 1935 convention. An industry-based resolution, which stated that “in the great mass production industries … industrial organization is the only solution,” was defeated, which prompted defection. In November 1935, representatives of eight unions announced the formation of the Committee for Industrial Organization (CIO). Two more unions joined later. The AFL retaliated by suspending all 10 unions, but the CIO built momentum by organizing the key steel, rubber, and automobile industries, reaching agreements with such large corporations as U.S. Steel and General Motors. In the following year the CIO and the AFL battled for leadership of American labour, often trying to organize the same workers.

The CIO held its first convention in Pittsburgh, Pa., in November 1938, adopting a new name (Congress of Industrial Organizations) and a constitution as well as electing John L. Lewis as its president. Lewis had organized the first successful strike against General Motors (a “sit-down” tactic) in 1937. This action spurred several other organizing efforts and drew new members.

Lewis pledged to resign as CIO president if Roosevelt, whom he had previously supported, was reelected in 1940. He kept his promise and was succeeded that year by Philip Murray, who had served under Lewis in the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) union. In the following year the CIO organized the employees of the Ford Motor Company, steel companies (including Bethlehem, Republic, Inland, and Youngstown), and other big industrial corporations that previously had refused to sign agreements with it.

Meet Maria Moreno: The First Farm Worker Woman in America To Be Hired As A Union Organizer

A new documentary tells the story of the migrant mother of 12 children who was the first female farm worker in America elected to represent her peers.

A new documentary tells the story of Maria Moreno, the first female farm worker in America to be hired as a union organizer. Photo Credit: George Ballis/Take Stock

Before César Chávez and Dolores Huerta, there was Maria Moreno, a union organizer whose story all but disappeared from history until the discovery of lost photographs taken more than 50 years ago by George Ballis, one of the leading photographers of the farmworker movement. It was a discovery that sparked the search for a woman that time had forgotten.

The story of Maria Moreno—a migrant mother of 12, who was elected by her fellow Mexican-American, Filipino, Black and Okie farmworkers to represent them—the first female farm worker in America to be hired as a union organizer, is now being told in a new documentary, “Adios Amor: The Search for Maria Moreno.”

As Laurie Coyle, the film’s director, told Colorlines: “The search for Maria guides this documentary, where ghosts fade in and out and magic underpins a rawboned reality. In the end, whose stories get told may hinge on memories, coincidence and—in Maria’s case—an insistence on pursuing a path that touches the lives of others. From California’s great Central Valley, to the Arizona desert and U.S.-Mexico border, the journey yields buried treasure…and stories told with passion and humor.”

Ahead of the March 1 world premiere of “Adios Amor: The Search for Maria Moreno” at the Cinequest Film Festival in San Jose, California, Colorlines talked to Coyle about the inspiration for the documentary, Moreno’s organizing journey and how her legacy lives on.

Let’s start with the basics: Who was Maria Moreno?

Laurie Coyle: Maria Moreno was a migrant mother who was driven by her 12 children’s hunger to become an activist in the late 1950s. She was born in Texas in 1920 and came to California during the Dustbowl Migration. Her father was an orphan of the Mexican Revolution and her mother was Mescalero Apache, so Maria was Mexican American, indigenous and a U.S. citizen.

What motivated Moreno to become an organizer? How did she get hired?

Coyle: The 1958 flood in Tulare County, California, left more than 300 farmworkers displaced and without work. According to county regulations, farmworkers weren’t eligible for food assistance. Many of them were going hungry, and Maria’s eldest son stopped eating so that his younger brothers and sisters would have a little more to eat. He went blind temporarily and had to be hospitalized. Maria started speaking out, and Ron Taylor at The Fresno Bee covered her story. Maria’s testimony created such a stir that the county welfare agency reversed its policy and offered food assistance to the farm workers. Word about Maria got out, and in 1959, when Norman Smith was sent by the AFL - CIO to launch the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee, Maria Moreno was one of the first organizers that he hired.

Describe the conditions that farmworkers faced that led her to start speaking out and organizing.

Coyle: In spite of the unprecedented affluence in the post-World War II years, Maria Moreno’s family and other farmworkers were living in conditions that hadn’t changed since the Depression. Farmworkers had been excluded from the rights won by most industrial workers in the 1930s, such as the right to organize and bargain collectively, minimum wage, social security and unemployment. Child labor, which had been outlawed decades earlier, was still common in agriculture families depended on their children’s labor to make ends meet, and most of those children attended school irregularly. They lived in rural ghettos and segregated migrant camps, often without heat, running water or toilets. Life was especially difficult in the long winter months after the harvests were done. At the time Maria started organizing, farmworkers were making 85 cents per hour, or a piece rate that amounted to less, well below the minimum wage. At that time, farmworkers were demanding $1.25 per hour. The government never set wage standards for farm labor, and the growers never committed to a living wage.

The movement that César Chávez headed up in the 1960s-󈨊s pushed through reforms like the right to collective bargaining, a minimum wage, disability, unemployment insurance, and drinking water and toilets in the fields. But these gains applied only to California farmworkers, not the nation. Today, only one percent of California’s farmworkers are covered under a union contract, and those who aren’t frequently don’t benefit from farmworker protections.

Why did it take so many years for Moreno’s story to be told?

Coyle: There are many answers to that question! Over the past few decades, virtually everyone doing farmworker research was focused on César Chávez and the United Farm Workers [ UFW ]. Although the photographs of Maria Moreno that I found weren’t literally buried or lost, nevertheless, most everyone visiting the Take Stock archive where I found George Ballis’ photographs was looking for images of Chávez and the UFW , so in some sense Maria Moreno was invisible. I, too, went there looking for photos of César Chávez, but digging deeper, reaching further back in time, I found the Moreno photos and they were riveting. Likewise, the audio recordings of Maria and her union were in the stacks at the Walter Reuther Library in Detroit. But nobody had ever listened to the recordings or catalogued them because everyone was looking for documentation of the Chávez era. Having a woman, especially a farmworker woman, as spokesperson for AWOC [Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee] in 1960 was extraordinary—this was before second wave feminism or the civil rights March on Washington. There were other farmworker women activists, but they weren’t known outside their community. What you find is largely a matter of what you are looking for, what you deem important, and Maria Moreno was not on anybody’s radar.

Then, there’s the question of labor politics and union rivalries. Maria Moreno went to work for the AWOC in 1959. Her effectiveness as a speaker and organizer is attested to by the fact that the Okie, Arkie, Black, Filipino and Mexican-American AWOC members elected her to represent them. This was at a time when rural California was highly segregated, with farmworkers living in segregated camps and working on segregated crews. In the fields, growers pitted the different ethnic groups against each other to break strikes and keep wages down. As UFW Co-founder Gilbert Padilla said, AWOC was a pioneering thing, and Maria was ahead of her time.

Although embraced by the rank and file members of her union, her outspokenness got her into trouble with labor bureaucrats at the AFL - CIO , which was funding AWOC . Concerned that AWOC was calling too many strikes and that the AFL - CIO was running up legal bills defending them, George Meany, the AFL - CIO ’s first president, decided to bring the union to heel and sent in an enforcer who fired Moreno and some other organizers who were considered too independent. After that mini purge, most AWOC members just drifted away. But the Filipinos maintained control of their local committees and it was they who started the 1965 grape strike. Eventually, Chavez’s National Farm Workers Association ( NFWA ), and AWOC joined forces and merged into the UFW .

What was Moreno’s relationship to Chávez and the UFW ?

Coyle: People often ask me why Cesar Chávez didn’t recruit Maria to work with the NFWA . I’ve heard different explanations, including one that Cesar was a devout Catholic and Maria was a devout Pentecostal. Over the course of my research, I found a letter and a recording with Chávez referring to Maria Moreno’s “big mouth.” I’m sure that gender bias played a role, as well as rivalry between their unions.

There’s the saying that history belongs to the victors—since Maria’s movement went down to defeat, that’s why she’s been forgotten. Beyond that, however, the standard narrative of the farmworkers movement has always been focused on César Chávez. But that’s beginning to change, as we can see from the enormous success of Peter Bratt’s recent documentary about Dolores Huerta. I began shooting “Adios Amor” before Peter began shooting “Dolores.” But making a film about an unknown woman is more of an uphill battle than making a film about a woman who has been a national figure for years. The point is not to replace the history of one famous man with the history of one or two famous women—the point is to be thoughtful about how the narrative is shaped, and whose stories are represented.

There are many women who have made and continue to make significant contributions to social justice struggles but have remained anonymous. It was possible for me to tell Maria’s story because the images and recordings made by photographers and journalists (George Ballis, Ernie Lowe, Henry Anderson, Ron Taylor) captured her story. Their documentation of her life and work may have been overlooked or forgotten, but their remarkable record of her life and work survived. Maria Moreno and AWOC planted a seed. It’s a seed that still needs nurturing today.

What inspired you to make the film? Describe the journey you were on.

Coyle: The first time I saw Maria Moreno was 20 years ago when I was lead researcher and associate producer for Rick Tejada-Flores and Ray Telles’ documentary, “The Fight in the Fields-César Chávez and the Farmworkers’ Struggle.”

As a producer of history documentaries, finding a treasure trove of photographs I wasn’t looking for was tremendously exciting. I wanted to know more, but life as a working mother and freelance filmmaker intervened. Years later, after working on, and in one case directing, numerous documentaries about illustrious men, I returned to the provocative photographs to find their mysterious protagonist. When the search began, I didn’t know what I would find or whether Maria Moreno would still be living. With a measure of luck and a lot of work, I traced her life and legacy.

On a personal note, “Adios Amor” represents a homecoming for me. The year that Maria Moreno was pushed out of the labor movement, my parents uprooted our family of nine from the East Coast and moved to the Bay Area. In those days there were still traces of the farms that had been the heart of the Santa Clara Valley. The public library in our town was built in the middle of an apricot orchard, and we would collect the apricots that fell to the ground. But we knew nothing about the lives and struggles of the workers who grew the food on our table. Not until the California grape strike started and my Dad began volunteering at the farmworker clinic in Delano. Mom was busy raising seven kids, taking night classes and protesting the war in Vietnam. I dedicate “Adios Amor” to their memory.

Why was I driven to tell this story? I want people, especially young people, to fall in love with history. I appreciate the importance of STEM education, but history and the humanities are getting the short shrift these days. Knowing where we come from and whose shoulders we stand on is empowering. I hope that “Adios Amor-The Search for Maria Moreno” will inspire viewers to launch their own journeys of discovery, to ask how is history shaped and whose voices are represented. How many Marias walk among us? It’s for us to draw a circle around their stories and invite them to speak.

What are some of the issues that women working in the fields face today?

Coyle: Today, over 80 percent of farmworkers are immigrants and more than half are undocumented, making them particularly vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. With the rise in anti-immigrant sentiment and spike in immigration raids, farmworkers live in fear of deportation and family separation. Most farmworkers are married, and/or have children, yet six out of 10 live apart from their families. In spite of gains made in California, nationally, farmworkers continue to be excluded from minimum wage, overtime and disability regulations. Although child labor laws set 16 as the minimum age, the minimum age for farm work is 12. Farmworker annual income is $11,000 for an individual and $16,000 for a family, well below the federal poverty level. And although farmworkers have taxes withheld from their paychecks, less than 1 percent use welfare, 2 percent use social security and 15 percent are Medicaid recipients.

In addition to these conditions, farmworker women have been the victims of widespread sexual harassment and assault on the job. They have suffered these grievances in silence because reporting it would risk their jobs, their reputations, and their ability to feed their families. But that is beginning to change. Farmworker women’s organizations such as Lideres Campesinas and the Alianza Nacional de Campesinas have been advocating on these issues for years. Recently, they joined with the emerging #MeToo/#TimesUp campaign, publishing an open letter titled “700,000 Female Farmworkers Say They Stand With Hollywood Actors Against Sexual Assault.” Farmworker women are taking the lead in the campaign to raise awareness and provide legal defense for victims of sexual violence and harassment.

Watch the video: George Meany Labor Reception


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