AFL-CIO President George Meany Didn’t Believe in Public Sector Unions

GeorgeMeany12041955When it comes to the question of public sector (government employee) unions, the granddaddy of labor leaders, George Meany, didn’t believe in them.

At least, according to him.

By the time Meany wrote the following words, he had been a national labor leader for 16 years, having served as the #2 and then #1 official of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) from 1939-1955. After the AFL merged with the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) on December 5, 1955, Meany served as the AFL-CIO’s president for the next 25 years.

On December 4, 1955, literally the eve of the AFL-CIO merger, the New York Times magazine published an article by Meany in which he set forth this view: “It is impossible to bargain collectively with the government.” His quote in greater context:

…4) Certain business leaders may consider “big government” or socialism more of an immediate threat to their interests than communism. Are they allowing themselves to be deluded by their own propaganda to the effect that organized labor in this country is in favor of big government or the nationalization of industry?

Nothing could be further from the truth. The main function of American trade unions is collective bargaining. It is impossible to bargain collectively with the government. Unions, as well as employers, would vastly prefer to have even Government regulation of labor-management relations reduced to a minimum consistent with the protection of the public welfare…

Meany remains a revered figure in the labor union movement to this day. The AFL-CIO named the undergraduate higher education institution it created (in Silver Spring, Maryland) the “George Meany Center for Labor Studies,” reachable online at The official archives of the AFL-CIO was named in honor of Meany, and the AFL-CIO named its human rights award “The George Meany-Lane Kirkland 2009 Human Rights Award” after Meany and his #2 and successor, Lane Kirkland.

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