Between a River and a Mountain
The AFL-CIO and the Vietnam War
Publication Year: 2005
Published by: University of Michigan Press
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I have incurred a great many debts in the preparation and writing of this book. The faculty and staff at the University of Maryland at College Park provided significant encouragement and support as I began my initial investigations. Stuart Kaufman, the sage editor of the Samuel Gompers Papers, provided invaluable early guidance. That this project survived his sudden death is a testament to his powers to inspire. I am indebted to a number of ...
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Two dramatic incidents of violent working-class protest stand at either end of this study. The first occurred in April 1950, at the port of the French city of Nice. A mob—organized by communist trade unionists—gathered to protest the French war in Indochina. As the rabble grew unruly, it forcibly boarded a ship loaded with war supplies destined for Southeast Asia. Rampaging through the vessel, the mob destroyed everything in its wake, eventually ...
1. Free Trade Unionism
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Why did a labor movement devoted to domestic, economic concerns become so intensely consumed by affairs overseas—so much so that its involvement in the Vietnam War wrought wounds still painful even today? Historians have approached this question from a variety of vantage points, alternatively constructing explanations around the obsessive anticommunism of organized labor’s leadership, the prestige and status foreign affairs ...
2. “No More Pressing Task Than Organizing in Southeast Asia”
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For two years following World War II, the AFL internationalists fought a lonely, largely solitary cold war against communist infiltration of Western European unions. In 1947, however, the fortunes of free trade unionism turned markedly for the better. With the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan, the federal government emerged as a new, generous partner in the anticommunist cause. While a partnership between labor and the U.S. government ...
3. “It’s a Vast Jungle and We’re Working on the Periphery”
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By 1952, proponents of free trade unionism appeared poised to realize their ambitious national and international objectives. That year the pugnacious free trade unionist George Meany was elected president of the American Federation of Labor. Henceforth, anticommunism, internationalism, full-employment economics, and a fierce commitment to trade union autonomy would be the virtually unchallenged tenets governing the AFL. Parallel ...
4. New Frontiers
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For free trade unionists, the early 1960s came like a brief Indian summer: overnight long-held hopes and ideals appeared tantalizingly within grasp. Slogging out of the discouraging Eisenhower years, organized labor embraced new frontiers thrown open by the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. Senator John F. Kennedy’s 1960 “we can do better” campaign mantra, paralleling neatly labor’s call for activist government at home and ...
5. Into the Quagmire
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That year, eight hundred union leaders polled by U.S. News and World Report “almost unanimously praised LBJ.”1 Union leaders had reason to savor the hour, for the years between 1965 and 1968 in many ways marked the apex of postwar American labor. The economy soared to near full-employment levels, and a sympathetic, activist president sat in the White House. Internationally, the United States matched its military offensive ...
6. Free Fall, 1968–69
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If the mid-1960s, despite unprecedented prosperity and political power, proved unfulfilling and anxiety ridden for organized labor, a downward spiral following the Tet Offensive quickly confirmed that all was not well with the free trade union agenda, neither in Vietnam nor at home. Indeed, over the course of roughly a year, the fortunes of free trade unionism went into free fall. In quick succession, the Democrats lost the White House, Walter ...
7. Entangling Alliances and Mounting Costs, 1970–71
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The parade of reversals afflicting the AFL-CIO in the late 1960s continued into the 1970s. Critics gleefully exposed the questionable arrangements made by the supposedly independent U.S. trade unionists to the glare of daylight, and growing numbers of trade unionists, especially at the rank and file level, defied Meany and joined the peace movement. In Saigon, the CVT also faced mounting challenges, including an expanded campaign of terrorism ...
8. “The Last of the Cold War Mohicans,” 1972–75
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In 1956, Pravda mockingly dismissed George Meany as the “last of the cold war Mohicans.”1 A meaningless slur at the time, by the 1970s the epithet carried more than a ring of truth. In the wake of the painful war in Vietnam, even the old cold warrior Richard Nixon embraced détente and accommodation with the East. Large segments of a hopelessly splintered liberal coalition, meanwhile, jettisoned anticommunism, foreign policy activism, and ...
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Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2005