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Date: Mon, 16 Aug 1999 23:20:28 -0500 (CDT)
From: Michael Eisenscher <meisenscher@igc.org>
Subject: Passing of Labor's Cold Warrier
Article: 72849
Message-ID: <bulk.20299.19990819121513@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

Lane Kirkland, Former A.F.L-C.I.O. Head, Dies at 77

By William Serrin, New York Times,
15 August 1999

Lane Kirkland, who was president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O. from 1979 to 1995, a troubled period for American workers, and who resigned after an angry revolt of union presidents, died yesterday morning at his home in Washington.

He was 77.

The cause of death was lung cancer, said his wife, Irena Kirkland.

Together, Kirkland and George Meany, his predecessor as president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O. and his longtime friend and mentor, led the American labor movement for nearly 45 years.

While Kirkland was serving almost 16 years as president of the labor federation, the American economy and the workplace experienced drastic change. Plants closed, jobs were lost, union membership shrank and union importance diminished. The growing concern for labor's future in the United States, which contributed to Kirkland's downfall, contrasted with its relatively powerful influence abroad, an influence that Kirkland helped to foster.

Kirkland was an ardent anti-Communist who was proud of his organization's efforts to assist the Solidarity movement in bringing democracy to Poland by any means it could. During the 1970's and 80's, he worked tirelessly to help Solidarity topple the Communist government, surreptitiously channeling organization money and fax machines to the movement led by Lech Walesa.

"The success of Solidarity owes a lot to Lane," said Henry A. Kissinger, a close friend of Kirkland. "He supported it with funds and organizers, and he had a big effect on American policy makers."

But leaders of several big unions forced him from office, saying that he lacked the same intense interest when it came to energizing American workers and winning them over to trade unionism.

Although the A.F.L.-C.I.O. has become more vigorous since Kirkland's resignation, it remains unclear whether the American labor movement can ever recapture its former power. When Kirkland assumed office, 24 percent of the workers in the United States belonged to unions. When he resigned, the figure was 15.5 percent. Today, it is 13.9 percent.

Joseph Lane Kirkland -- everyone called him Lane -- was born on March 12, 1922, in Camden, S.C., the son of Randolph Withers Kirkland, a cotton buyer, and the former Louise Richardson. A great-great-grandfather, Thomas Jefferson Withers, had signed the Confederate declaration of secession, and Kirkland often referred to the Civil War as the "War of Northern Aggression."

Kirkland was raised in Newberry, S.C., where he attended public schools, and where many of his classmates were sons and daughters of mill workers. "They'd leave school to work in the mills, and conditions were rather bad," he once told The Washington Post. "If they'd fire a guy, he'd lose his house; he'd lose everything. There's no better way to get an education in becoming liberal than to be exposed to those sorts of things."

Before the United States entered World War II, Kirkland unsuccessfully tried to join the Canadian military. In 1940, he became a cadet on the S.S. Liberator, a merchant marine ship. The following year, he entered the United States Merchant Marine Academy. Upon graduation in 1942, he served as a chief mate aboard American ships transporting war matriel, sailing to South America, the beachheads at Sicily and Anzio, and the Solomon Islands in the Pacific. Since then, he kept his membership in the Masters, Mates, and Pilots Union.

After the war, Kirkland entered the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, graduating in 1948. He then worked as a researcher with the American Federation of Labor, becoming a specialist on pensions and Social Security. A skilled writer, he was on loan in 1948 to the Democratic Party to write speeches for Alben W. Barkley, President Harry S. Truman's running mate. In 1952 and 1956 he wrote campaign speeches for Adlai E. Stevenson, the Democratic Presidential candidate.

He always impressed Meany, who had become president of the A.F.L. in 1952 and of the A.F.L.-C.I.O. in 1955 when the labor federation merged with the Congress of Industrial Organizations.

In 1958, Kirkland became director of research and education for the International Union of Operating Engineers, but in 1960 he returned to the labor federation as Meany's executive assistant. He directed the organization's daily operations and often represented it on Capitol Hill and at the White House.

Always seeking accommodation, he helped resolve jurisdictional disputes among the federation's unions -- then a difficult problem in labor -- and helped to settle the mass-transit strike in New York City in 1966. He pushed strongly for a fair employment practices provision in the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

In May 1969, Meany selected Kirkland to be secretary-treasurer, the No. 2 position in the organization. His opposition to the policies of the Nixon Administration earned him a place on the President's notorious "enemies list."

Kirkland continued his intense interest in international affairs, maintaining that they were too important to be left to "a tight incestuous breed of economists and diplomats." He strongly supported American involvement in the Vietnam War and was instrumental in the A.F.L.-C.I.O.'s refusal to support Senator George S. McGovern as the Democratic candidate for President in 1972. In 1976 he was a founder of the Committee on the Present Danger, which demanded larger military budgets to confront the Soviet Union.

In the 1970's, as Meany's health declined, Kirkland often ran the labor organization. In September 1979, Meany, then 85, announced his retirement, and in November Kirkland was named president even though he remained remote to many union members.

In his acceptance speech Kirkland set a tone for his administration, making clear, in his tart manner, the importance that he placed on getting nonaffiliated unions to join the A.F.L.-C.I.O. He said "all sinners belong in the church" and unaffiliated unions should renounce "petty personal or pecuniary considerations, or ancient and tedious grudges." He regarded as his biggest achievement persuading the auto workers, the mine workers, the longshoremen and warehousemen, and the teamsters to join or rejoin the A.F.L.-C.I.O.

Kirkland was proud of other changes under his leadership. He placed the first woman on the labor organization's executive council and increased the participation of blacks and Hispanics. He agreed to establish an institute to train new organizers. He also continued the A.F.L.-C.I.O.'s vast foreign operations in Europe, Africa, South America and Asia.

But huge problems emerged with his leadership.

Kirkland was, as is said in the garment trades, an inside guy, not an outside guy. He often seemed detached, sometimes arrogant, incapable of banter or pleasantries. He was given to withering ripostes, and seemed to detest the news media, often refusing interviews and requests to appear on television, even on Labor Day, saying he found it demeaning. He said reporters should periodically be condemned to their morgues to read their clippings, an exercise he believed would show the shallowness and inaccuracy of much of journalism.

Critics said that Kirkland spent too much time on international affairs and not enough time on domestic concerns and that he linked American labor too frequently with conservative unions in foreign countries. They also maintained that in its foreign policy, Kirkland's organization too often allied itself with American corporations. In 1993, when Congress debated a bill to ban permanent replacement workers, Kirkland was in Europe. The A.F.L.-C.I.O. spent more money on international affairs than on organizing, civil rights and workers' health and safety.

At the same time, fundamental change was occurring in the American economy. In the 1980's, one industrial plant after another closed, and whole communities were in distress. The service economy, with little union organization, expanded. Jobs were lost to new processes and foreign competition. Strike after strike was lost, including one by the air traffic controllers in 1981, and labor suffered numerous defeats in Congress, including its failure in 1993 to block passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which unions opposed because of a concern over losing jobs in the United States. In 1994, Republicans won control of the House and the Senate for the first time in four decades.

Through all of this, organized labor failed to expand its membership, and Kirkland's critics in the union movement said he lacked the vision to reverse the slide.

In early 1995, an open revolt broke out, a remarkable event for labor unions, whose culture stresses loyalty, discipline and the private settlement of problems. Not since John L. Lewis and others left the A.F.L. in 1935 to form what became the C.I.O. had such a raucous, public fight occurred in American unionism.

The revolt was led by Gerald McEntee, president of the municipal workers; John J. Sweeney, then president of service employees; Richard Trumka, then president of the mine workers; and Ronald Carey, then president of the teamsters.

McEntee doggedly engaged Kirkland in debates. Union leaders, acting anonymously, condemned Kirkland in statements to reporters and he was criticized at a February 1995 executive council meeting in Bal Harbour, Fla.

Sweeney twice asked Kirkland to retire. He knew that President Clinton had offered Kirkland the ambassadorship to Poland, and he suggested that the union leader accept it and make way for new leadership. But Kirkland, always a stubborn man, refused to step aside.

In June that year, with presidents of some 20 unions opposing him, Kirkland said he would resign in August, becoming the only president in the American Federation of Labor's history to be forced to step down in this century. Thomas R. Donahue, the A.F.L-C.I.O.'s secretary-treasurer, and Kirkland's choice to be his successor, announced his candidacy for the presidency. But in October, Sweeney, the leader of an opposition slate, defeated Donahue.

After his resignation, Kirkland was rarely in the pubic eye. He never forgot or forgave Sweeney and the other insurrectionists, saying that they engaged in "mendacity and falsehood." He said the labor movement had always had difficulties, given its many enemies, but was built for "heavy weather." And he took pride in the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the cold war, believing that he and the A.F.L.-C.I.O. had helped bring it about.

Kirkland was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Survivors include Kirkland's wife, the former Irena Neumann, a German concentration camp survivor whom he married in 1973, and five children from his first marriage, to Edith Draper Hollyday, which ended in divorce in 1972.

The children are Blair Hollyday, Lucy Alexander, Louise Richardson, Edith Hollyday and Katharine, all of whom live in the Washington area.

He is also survived by five grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

Kirkland had broad interests that included gardening, gin rummy, wine, jazz, modern art, archeology and hieroglyphics. He was a constant smoker, and a trademark, along with a sharp tongue, was a long, yellowed holder with a burning cigarette.

In scores of articles about him over 20 years, only one, in 1984 in The Washington Post, showed him at ease. He was portrayed in his home, in Washington, playing "Amazing Grace" on his Marine Band harmonica, in the manner of a sailor at sea, with his dachshund Stanley howling in delighted accompaniment.

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