Columbus Day 1961, the AFL—CIO Executive Council inadvertently brought on the birth pangs of a new American union movement. When the travail is over very few of the old-crony midwives who now run the AFL—CIO will be around, and almost nobody will care, because there are indications that the successors to the men who lead labor today will be Negroes, and that the resistance to them, led by George Meany, will precipitate a factional struggle that the Negroes will win along with the AFL-CIO, the emoluments, the perquisites, and the real estate, that is, the neo-Mogul Taj Mahal which houses the AFL in Washington.
Demographic and economic forces, not the strange document adopted by the AFL—CIO Executive Council, and not A. Philip Randolph either, will one day put Negro officers at the desks in the AFL—CIO Building from which George Meany and William Schnitzler today look down on the White House grounds, and when the air is clear, even see the George Washington Memorial steeple in Alexandria, Virginia. A lovely view from one of the finest pieces of real estate in the national capital.
The day before the AFL-CIO Executive Council decided to speak their own odd version of the truth to the Negro people, an opinionsounding in the center of the lobby at the New York City Commodore Hotel during the council meeting indicated the two major issues it faced were Hoffa and who’s winning the ball game.
In the bar at the Commodore Hotel, staff people, who had no vote in the Executive Council on the Teamster issue, said that Hoffa should be readmitted to the AFL—CIO on probation and given six months to clean up the Meany mess on pain of being expelled finally forever. Once this was said, no other anticipated event seemed important enough to keep anyone hanging around to pick up the gossip. One by one, the usual kibitzers, commission merchants, and opinion brothers in the labor business went home to leave the aging, overweight leaders of the American unions gumming their lines on a stage without an audience. Toward the middle of the week, the bearded, slightly seedy Potofsky stood at the head of the carpeted stairs that mounts into the smudged glitter of the Commodore lobby for hours at a time constantly jostled by the come-and-go of tourists, neither recognized nor spoken to.
The occasion was dull and distractingly quiet before the Council adopted the three-man report accusing the Negroes and Philip Randolph of segregating themselves against the best efforts of building trades leaders to integrate them into a totally tolerant union movement, and of discriminating against whites seeking jobs as Pullman porters. Meany himself trundled his stomach the hundred-yard length of the lobby, his eyes characteristically bugged, and not even Murray Kempton, who so deeply respects the ex-plumber’s fierce and guileless honesty, was on hand to say “sir” before a thoughtful question. Walter Reuther stayed away pre...
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