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George Meany, American Federation of Labor leader: 1940 | by Washington Area Spark
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George Meany, American Federation of Labor leader: 1940

George Meany, the long-time right of center leader of the American Federation of Labor (AFL—later AFL-CIO), is shown in a 1940 photograph.


Meany began his career as a plumber in New York, rising to head the New York City Building Trades Council and later the New York State AFL.


He was elected secretary-treasurer of the AFL in 1939 at time of its bitter rivalry with the Congress of Industrial Organizations.


Meany was a fierce anti-communist who spoke strongly against participation in the World Federation of Trade Unions because Soviet unions participated. He went on to form a rival International Confederation of Free Trade Unions.


When the anti-union Taft-Hartley Act passed Congress in 1947, the issue of compliance was taken up at the 1947 AFL convention.


Mineworkers’ president John L. Lewis addressed the convention an advocated noon-compliance with the Taft-Hartley Act, including a refusal to sign non-communist affidavits that were part of the law. Lewis argued that non-compliance would only return labor relations to the pre-Wagner Act days before 1937 and would likely force amendments to the Act.


Meany argued to leave the decision to each individual union and further that the federation officers, himself included, must sign the non-communist affidavits in order for the federations many directly affiliated unions to avail themselves of the few positive labor law provisions that weren’t gutted by the Taft-Hartley Act.


Meany’s position was overwhelmingly supported and the federations individual in turn signed the affidavits with the exception of the mineworkers.


The issue became important locally in the Washington D.C. area when the CIO United Cafeteria & Restaurant Workers Local 471 staged a strike against Government Services, Inc. after refusing to sign non-communist affidavits. The AFL Hotel workers attempted to supplant the CIO union during the strike but failed.


After the CIO expelled communist-led or allied unions in 1950, Meany led the negotiating team from the AFL to meet with the CIO to merge the two federations.


Meany was elected president of the AFL in 1952 to succeed William Green after his death.


The AFL and CIO merged in 1955 and Meany served as its first president until 1979 when he retired for health reasons.


His tenure at the AFL-CIO was marked by a right wing foreign policy bent and narrow trade unionism, although he became supportive of the civil rights movement in its later years. He also gained a reputation for fighting corruption in the labor movement during his tenure.


He faced criticism through out his tenure for failing to mobilize the federation’s members in support of repealing Taft-Harley, civil rights or for labor law reform.


For more information and related images on the Cafeteria Local 471 strike, see


For a deep dive into Cafeteria Local 471’s fight against the Taft-Hartley Act, see


The photographer is unknown. The original source is unknown but appears to be a news service photograph. The image was obtained via an Internet sale..

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Taken on March 20, 1941