Divided Soul of Labor Leadership

Divided Soul of Labor Leadership

The following is excerpted from H. W. Benson’s book, published last year by the Association for Union. Democracy cold entitled Democratic Rights for Union Members. Soon after George Meany became its president, the AFL embarked on a campaign against corruption in unions, a battle that was continued by the newly merged AFL-CIO when it expelled the Teamsters and other unions and adopted Ethical Practices Codes. But by 1959 the AFL-CIO had abandoned the effort. Benson finds part of the explanation of that, failure in the divided soul of U.S. labor leadership. —EDS.

Most labor leaders, if they could choose at leisure, would surely opt for a clean labor movement, just as most automobile owners would prefer clean air. But they find the cleanup requirements too disagreeable.

To root out corruption, it was imperative to invigorate union democracy, encourage members to rise against suspect leaders, and protect those who might be victimized. The sorcerer’s apprentice could conjure up the rushing waters but lacked the secret of controlling their power. Those who lead labor are willing, when necessary, to summon their members to battle with employers; but they prefer not to risk unleashing the power of internal union democracy against union officials.

To become an effective leader, with power, secure status, influence, and money, a union leader is compelled to develop a dual personality. He cultivates the qualities of a responsible public statesman but also those of a crafty politician; he remains a workers’ leader but simultaneously evolves into a bureaucrat.

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