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New Left Review I/136, November-December 1982

Mike Davis

The AFL-CIO’s Second Century

The American Federation of Labor celebrated its centenary last year. It is one of the world’s great conservative institutions, with a stability of internal rule and ideology that might make even the Bank of England gasp. Although the United States has had nineteen presidents since the founding of the afl in 1881, the Federation has had only four. Samuel Gompers, aside from being a well-known white supremacist, was remarkable for his life-long opposition to social insurance. William Green, for his part, split the American labour movement in the 1930s rather than accept the infusion of new militancy and members represented by the industrial unions. George Meany, in turn, ensured that the reunited afl-cio played its loyal role in the international crusade against socialism and radical trade unionism. Lane Kirkland—Meany’s hand-groomed successor and a Southern aristocrat by birth—preserves this traditional mould with his enthusiasm for the new cold war (he was a charter member of the ultra-hawkish Committee for the Present Danger).

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