At least one woman ought to sit on the AFL-CIO Executive Council. Even such tokenism is long overdue. So far as is known, the top leadership of the AFL-CIO has not sent out a search party to find a qualified woman to fill a place on the council, which is the policy-making body of the federation between biennial conventions. This exalted body consists of 33 vice presidents, all male, headed by George Meany and Lane Kirkland, president and secretary-treasurer, respectively.
With nearly four million women, roughly 30 per cent of the AFL-CIO membership, you would suppose it would not be hard for a diligent AFL-CIO "talent search" to come up with at least one eligible female. But that not "impossible she" has thus far eluded a scouting party.
President Meany has repeatedly observed that under the AFL-CIO constitution any union member is eligible to become a member of the executive council. The fact is that only presidents of national unions are council members. When vacanies occur through death or retirement, Meany quickly gives the nod and a president of an affiliated union is eased into the empty chair by vote of the council. In effect, the council has become a self-perpetuating body.
The idea of a woman on the executive council was once raised in a Meany news conference. "I hadn't thought of that," said the AFL-CIO president. Then he reflected aloud, "We have some very capable women in our unions but they only go up to a certain level - to the union's executive board or head of a district organization. They don't seem to have any desire to go further." (What's this? The application of the Peter principle?) He continued: "Now we have unions where a vast majority are women and still the vast majority of officers are men. That is not due to any policy of the unions themselves."
Nearly two years ago, before the last AFL-CIO convention in San Francisco - and behind closed doors - the constitution committee faced for the first time the question of how to correct the obvious sexist imbalance on the executive council. "We kicked the idea around," said a member of the committee, "but the committee finally decided to refer the whole matter to the executive council for review."
Glen Watts, president of the Communications Workers, 55 per cent of whose membership are women, introduced an amendment of the AFL-CIO constitution to add a Committee on Women to the list of standing committees. The function of such a committee, in its bland and condescending words, was "to have the responsibility of providing guidance and information in order that women may obtain equality, ensure their full integration innational development and make a full contribution to peace." But even that amendment got nowhere, much to Watt's distress. The convention leadership decided that a separate Committee on Women would only "duplicate" work being done in the federation's Department of Civi Rights. Instead, it recommended that persons who are "knowledgeable" about women's problems be added to the Civil Rights Committee. In the meantime, the federation was to "continue" its efforts to "encourage full and active participation by women and minorities at all levels of unions activities."
New pressure is now being applied inside the AFL-CIO. Watts points out that at the last convention, which is the ultimate constitutional body, only 22 or 23 delegates were women, or about 2 per cent.
"I know that sometimes we pass this off by saying that there are more women than there are of us men, and if they chose they could take an organization over, but a great deal that we have done over the years has prevented women and minorities in our ranks from being as assertive as they should be. "I trust" said Watts, "we have seen the start of a renewed effort to bring about the assertiveness of women so they can take up positions of real leadership."
With the next AFL-CIO convention later this year, will the women members of the AFL-CIO wait passively for an appropriate signal to become assertive? Or will they put their muscle and theirnumbers where their mouth is, and say: "The time is now."?