Cover image for Taking care of business : Samuel Gompers, George Meany, Lane Kirkland, and the tragedy of American labor
Taking care of business : Samuel Gompers, George Meany, Lane Kirkland, and the tragedy of American labor
Buhle, Paul, 1944-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Monthly Review Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
ix, 315 pages ; 23 cm

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HD8072.5 .B84 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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In this original, colorful history of "business unionism," Paul Buhle explains how trade union leaders in the United States became remote from the workers they claimed to represent as they allied with the very corporate executives and government officials who persistently opposed labor's interests.

At the center of the tale are three of the most powerful labor leaders of the past century: Samuel Gompers, George Meany, and Lane Kirkland, successive presidents of the American Federation of Labor and its descendent, the AFL-CIO. Many other labor leaders, from John L. Lewis to Walter Reuther, receive in-depth treatment.

Taking Care of Business demonstrates how a union hierarchy heavily populated by former radicals thwarted women and people of color from joining unions, suppressed shop floor militance, and colluded with business and government at home and abroad. Buhle shows how these leaders defeated generations of radical union members who sought a more democratic, class-based approach for the movement.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

The attempt by the American labor movement to reinvent itself on the threshold of a new century has drawn critical examination from various shades of the political spectrum. While Max Green's Epitaph for American Labor (CH, Mar'97) claimed that the AFL-CIO had been captured by the Left, Taking Care of Business presents a very different picture. According to Buhle (Brown Univ.), the leadership of organized labor over the past century has actively promoted a reactionary agenda that has abetted institutional racism and sexism, a lack of internal democracy, Cold War adventurism overseas, and the unencumbered expansion of private enterprise at home. Although the subjects of the study were very different individuals, they all supported a conservative brand of trade unionism that consciously undermined more progressive labor organizations such as the Industrial Workers of the World. The book does provide new, chilling insights into the Cold War machinations of Meany and Kirkland; unfortunately much of the remaining material is old news. Running throughout the text are echoes of the bitter sectarian feuds that were so commonplace on the American Left for much of its history. Primarily of interest to graduate students and faculty who have a working knowledge of labor history. H. Harris Pennsylvania State University, New Kensington Campus

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. vii
Introductionp. 1
1. Samuel Gompers and Business Unionismp. 17
2. Meany Takes Commandp. 91
3. Meanyism: Apex and Declinep. 146
4. The Kirkland Yearsp. 204
Conclusionp. 249
Notesp. 264
Indexp. 303