The Bronx plumber who rose to labor leadership as a lobbyist/politician (not a union leader) has got himself a showcase...



The Bronx plumber who rose to labor leadership as a lobbyist/politician (not a union leader) has got himself a showcase ""authorized"" biography--composed largely of excerpts from his interviews and public statements, endorsed and flatteringly framed by labor reporter Robinson (U.S. News & World Report). On the positive side, we get a strong sense of where Meany came from: to read him on the philosophy of craft unionism--the pride in hard-acquired skills, the preoccupation with limiting entrance, protecting jurisdictions, maintaining wage-rates--is to understand anew the old AFL/CIO hostility. It even helps one understand, if not second, Meany's opposition, in the civil-rights-Sixties, to the Philadelphia Plan giving building-trades jobs to minority workers who hadn't gone the journeyman route. And there's ample evidence here of Meany's scrappiness and bluntness: he could justifiably say that he wasn't awed by presidents--from FDR to Jimmy Carter. But to hear Meany on the CIO split-off in '35 and the AFL-CIO merger in '55 is o hear his charges against John L. Lewis, in the first case, and Walter Reuther, in the second--with no emendation from Robinson (whose meager bibliography, on which he draws occasionally for corroboration, doesn't even include the major Le vis and Reuther bios). And, indeed, it's Meany's concerns that determine what's in the book: a great deal on the Meany anti-Communist and anti-corruption record (he was, Robinson says approvingly, Truman's precursor as a Cold Warrior), but nothing, post-merger, on unionization! (Meany does concede that, earlier on, CIO militance stimulated AFL efforts.) The off-and-on Nixon relationship, once the object of much curiosity, is more off than on here; we do get considerable detail on Meany vis-à-vis Ford and Carter--the chief addition to the record set forth in Joseph Goulden's 1972 life. All told, though, this is likely to be of greatest value to historians years hence; without narrative context or authorial perspective, it's all too narrowly and repetitively a stream of Meany's views to be of general interest today.

Pub Date: Jan. 11, 1981


Page Count: -

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1981

Close Quickview