George Meany and the Wayward

by John Hutchinson



The autonomy of affiliated unions was a bedrock principle of the American Federation of Labor (AFL). Union autonomy can not be used as a cloak for corruption said AFL President George Meany in 1956. Founded in 1886, the federation was a completely voluntary organization, a gathering of sovereign bodies for limited ends. It was in fact a confederation, a creature of delegated and meager authority, concerned more with consensus than with conformity. The Federation, said AFL founder and president Samuel Gompers, has no power to enforce its judgement. Suspension and expulsion were the only sanctions, something less than mortal for the great majority of AFL unions, and almost never used. From time to time the AFL did take action against erring affiliates, but discipline seemed to be a function of size. Gompers and his successor, William Green, respected the sensitivities of the larger affiliates, seldom assayed more than circumspect advice, and always paid homage to autonomy. In 1931 the AFL Executive Council heard that International Vice-President Theodore Brandle of the Iron Workers had accepted a bribe from New Jersey employers.

California Management Review

Berkeley-Haas's Premier Management Journal

Published at Berkeley Haas for more than sixty years, California Management Review seeks to share knowledge that challenges convention and shows a better way of doing business.

Learn more
Follow Us