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Meany and the Unions


George Meany once asked A. Philip Randolph, "who the hell appointed you spokesman for the whole Negro race?" The President of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters could have answered, "process of elimination," because he is the only Negro among the AFL-CIO executive leaders.

Randolph's moreover, is the only voice in the executive council both consistent and insistent in calling for an end to segregation in the nation's unions. Yet, last week a special AFL-CIO subcommittee blamed Randolph for "the gap that has developed between organized labor and the Negro community."

The subcommittee report, Meany-inspired in its aim and its reasoning, was followed by a comment from the AFL's grand poobah himself: "In the last two or three years," Meany said of Randolph, "he's gotten close to these militant groups and he's given up cooperation for propaganda."

"Cooperation" with Meany is in fact equivalent to submission. Meany has a history of feuds and bickerings with other labor leaders (particularly Negroes), and has all too often subordinated the interests of the labor movement to his own personal prejudices and ambitions.

The attack on Randolph, for example, calls to mind Meany's dispute with Rep. Adam Clayton Powell. When segregationist Rep. Burdick of North Carolina retired in 1959 as Chairman of the mightly House Committee on Education and Welfare, Meany opposed Powell's succession violently. Powell's pro-labor voting record (and Burdick's anti-labor tally) were apparently inconsequential.

The position of the AFL-CIO President on issues of Civil Rights, automation and the political role of labor has been one of retreat. Realizing that a passive labor movement is a respectable one, he has done all he can for the respectability of American unions. He is running for re-election next month, and nothing could strengthen organized labor more than his defeat.

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