Kennedy and the Unions

Kennedy and the Unions

If anyone except a trade-union president—say a bank president, an old-line political boss, an insurance-company president, or a corporation lawyer—had ordered as much cash and manpower into an election campaign as Walter Reuther mobilized for Jack Kennedy, he would have gotten a ticket entitling him to this many places in the Cabinet, to that many ambassadorial posts, and perhaps not to a veto over any decision that bore on his interest but at least a nicely polished and highly useful gold-plated oar in the palaver leading to the final judgment.

But when you tote up what Walter Reuther got for the massive dispositions he commanded in patronage, in recognition, in favors, in acknowledgement of his contribution, and in special honors, the sum is less than nothing, because merely as Duke of Detroit, he would be entitled in the run of things to more than he has received so far and is likely to see in the next seven years.

What can be attributed in pay-off accounting to the Reuther side of the AFL-CIO are an appointment of his administrative assistant, Jack Conway, to a sub-Cabinet post in the housing agency, the naming of another Reuther staff person in the Industrial Union Department to a sub-Cabinet job in the Labor Department, and the designation of George Weaver as the Assistant Secretary of Labor in charge of the international labor program. No pipelines are necessary, however, to determine that each of these postings was made from happenstances that had nothing whatever to do with the discharge of political obligations, although it is generally credited in Washington that jobs the Reuther faction have actually sought and still wish for have never been granted and are not likely to be—but in all friendliness.

In appointments, the AFL has been treated even worse, and in one instance, an AFL personality of some importance, Joseph Keenan of the IBEW, was gratuitously humiliated. Quite callously the White House put out a story anonymously to the effect that Keenan was to be appointed as an assistant to Defense Secretary McNamara and then allowed it to become known that McNamara had rejected the idea because presumably by some sort of computer divining he had determined Keenan was not up to the intellectual standards he required.

With trifling exceptions this is the extent of the recognition by the Kennedy Administration of the expensive, strenuous and critical exertions on his behalf by the unions.

Professional liberals, career Negroes, ADA operators and political academicians who have been associated with the unions, who court them, and who, with more or less success, have exploited them, have collected a substantial number of appointments that have been put down as union debts paid even though the swearing-in ceremony, without exception, was a bitter lump for the union people. Arthur Goldberg’s champion performance in getting himself named Secretary of Labor as the union candidate despite the w...

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