Comparing the 60’s and 70’s with Today : Unions, the Radicals and the Long Haired Kids of Occupy Wall Street.

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A bit of history told by a leftie comparing the 60’s and 70’s with today’s Wall Street “Occupiers”

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For those unfamiliar with the author below (Harold Meyerson) go HERE   first.

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How the Times Have Changed, Part 386

by Harold Meyerson

October 6, 2011

On Wednesday afternoon, within a few minutes of one
another, many of America’s leading unions–the Service
Employees, the Teamsters, the American Federation of
Teachers–not to mention labor’s omnibus federation,
the AFL-CIO–all released endorsements of Occupy Wall
Street and its ongoing demonstrations in New York’s
(and the world’s) financial center. Nothing surprising
here–otherindividual unions and numerous local unions
had already released statements of support for OSW,
and the AFL-CIO itself has held several demonstrations
on Wall Streetsince the financial collapse of 2008.

But for geezers like me, who came out of the student
left of the ’60s that found itself in various pitched
battles with organized labor, the difference between
then and now couldn’t be greater. To review the bidding
for a moment, the AFL-CIO under the leadership of
George Meany (and later, Lane Kirkland), while an
indispensable champion of most domestic progressive
legislation, was an ardent supporter of Cold War
policies in general and the Vietnam War in particular.
Despite some faltering efforts in the early and
mid-’60s to keep the Old and New Lefts from splitting,
that’s exactly what they did. And it wasn’t just the
radicals of the New Left who viewed labor with disdain
and contempt; it was also the New Politics liberals who
rallied around the anti-war presidential candidacies of
Eugene McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy in 1968 and George McGovern in 1972.

(The ’70s sitcom “All in the Family” rather faithfully captured the upper-middle class liberals’ disdain

for white male blue-collar workers, and that disdain certainly extended to their unions.)

That disdain was fully reciprocated. Famously, union
hard-hats beat up antiwar protestors on Wall Street at
one 1970 demonstration. George Meany memorably termed
McGovern delegates at the 1972 Democratic National
Convention “a bunch of jacks who dressed like jills and
had the odor of johns about them.” For years, the
AFL-CIO relentlessly opposed the rise within Democratic
Party circles of dovish foreign-policy groups,
feminists, and other forces that had emerged from the
’60s Left. The AFL-CIO’s political director in the
’70s, Al Barkan, delivered stump speeches demonstrating
how labor could carry the Democrats to victory without
any help from these troublemakers. He was, of course,
proved dead wrong.

That said, there were unions that opposed the war and
reached out to the student organizers. I distinctly
recall a planning meeting of Columbia University
students in the fall of 1969, held in somebody’s grubby
Morningside Heights basement, as we figured out what
we’d do in the upcoming Vietnam Moratorium
demonstrations. At one point, the door opened and a
middle-aged man came into the room and asked what he
and his organization could do to help us. The man was
Ed Gray, and his organization was the Northeastern
Region of the United Auto Workers–a group that had
played a key role in getting demonstrators from New
York to D.C. for the great 1963 March on Washington and
wanted to help us do the same.

The UAW, AFSCME, the Machinists, the Amalgamated
Clothing Workers, and different regions of SEIU and the
Communications Workers were a minority within the
AFLCIO, and throughout the ’70s and ’80s, the biennial
AFL-CIO conventions featured floor fights on public
policy in which these groups tried to moderate the
Federation’s hawkish stands on foreign policy and on
other American liberal constituencies. They generally
lost.

But during this time, labor was not only shrinking–it
was changing. Many onetime ’60s radicals went to work
for unions, or rose through the ranks. (My mentor, the
socialist Michael Harrington, played a key role in
bringing together the ’60s radicals with friendly
unionists.) The fastest-growing unions, which tended to
be in the public sector, were increasingly composed of
women and minorities, who were rising to leadership
positions in their unions. With the election of SEIU
President John Sweeney to the presidency of the AFL-CIO
in 1995, the federation threw open its doors and
welcomed the constituencies that it had battled in the
’60s, ’70s and ’80s. The new model labor movement would
go on to oppose the Iraq War when it still was popular,
embrace immigration reform–its coming together with
groups that used to be called the new social movements
was a complete reversal of its past position. Its
waning numbers made such reversals strategically
necessary, but these shifts in position were genuine:
In some cases, these unions were now led by onetime
’60s kids who had taken to the streets decades earlier.

Occupy Wall Street, of course, shares the broad
economic perspective of labor–both rightly believe that
American finance has injured and betrayed the American
nation. Both groups sing from the same hymnal. But in
the bad old days, the cultural differences between the
two constituencies would have driven them into
separate, even opposed, camps. Unscripted militancy
made labor nervous. Today, unions welcome that
militancy, even if its unscripted nature leaves them a
bit apprehensive. The labor movement that once bashed
the long-haired kids on Wall Street now embraces them.

LINK

***cross-posted here.

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Related Links:

Progressive Media Encourage Lawlessness and Anarchy. **PLUS** NY Times Utilizes Rich Kid as Spokesman at Occupy Wall Street.

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Communist Marching with #OccupyChicago Identified as OFA Organizer for President Obama

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Some questions for Occupy Wall Street. That Includes YOU College Students.

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