Hailing dissent within the Soviet Union while celebrating its absence within their own ranks. AFL-CIO leaders today acclaimed 83-year-old George Meany as their president for another two games.
For four days, the nearly 900 delegates to the AFL-CIO's biennial convention have been hearing what most of them wanted to hear: appeals for more jobs and a protectionist trade policy, criticism of Communist countries, and unqualified praise for the U.S. labor movement, especially the AFL-CIO.
As of late today, not a single argument had arisen on the convention floor as the delegates rubber-stamped scores of prepackaged resolutions on subjects ranging from tax reform, energy and urban problems to the need for bulletproof glass in train locomotives and cabooses.
And tonight they swallowed whatever misgivings some of their internal dissidents have and re-elected the resilient Meany, who has led the merged labor federation since it was founded 22 years ago.
Some union leaders, such as William W. Winpisinger, recently elected president of the International Association of Machinists, have complained that Meany gives the labor movement [WORD ILLEGIBLE] behind-the-times image at a time when it needs new vigor, but they merely abstained from voting.
The highlight of Meany's election came when Raymond Corbett, president of the New York labor federation asked "God, our carpenter in heaven," to permit "our plumber from the sidewalks of New York" to serve for at least another decade. Meany thanked Corbett for "making me president after I've gone to heaven" and pledged to work for labor law reform, national health insurance and the labor boycott of the J.P. Stevens textile firm. "We represent the little people of America and that's the way I like it," Meany said.
Also re-elected without opposition was Secretary-Treasurer Lane Kirkland, 55, a onetime merchant marine officer who is considered likely to succeed Meany when he steps down, possibly before the end of his new term.
In one of the few signs of change at this convention. Winpisinger was given the IAM's seat on the 35-member AFL-CIO Executive Council. Other appointments to fill vacancies promised less change: William Winn of the Retail Clerks International; Harry Poole of the Meatcutters: Alvin E. Heaps of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Sote Union, and Emmett Andrews of the Postal Workers Union.
The convention set the stage for relection of the Meany-Kirkland team last week by raising the men's slaries - from $90,000 to $110,000 a year for Meany and from $60,000 to $90,000 for Kirkland. No opposition was voiced.
Today was foreign policy day for the AFL-CIO as Meany read an appeal for support from Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov and hosted an appearance by exiled dissident Vladimir Bukovsky.
Sakharov, a scientist and 1975 Nobelpeace prize winner who was invited to the convention by Meany but was barred from attending by Soviet authorities, called on the AFL-CIO to continue championing human rights in a message that Kirkland said was "sent to us outside the channels of the Soviet dead-letter office."
"I am convinced," Sakhorov wrote, "that the AFL-CIO, with its enormous influence upon the internal and international policy of the U.S.A., can become one of the centers which coordinates and directs actions in defense of human rights of our common future."
He noted that, instead of receiving Meany's several invitations to the convention, he got one envelope enclosing "a mocking drawing of the extinct monster brontosaurus." Added Sakharov: "The KGB [the Soviet secret police] evidently had in mind those they call reactionaries, perhaps you Mr. Meany, and of course me. But in actual fact the brontosaurus is the repressive system which spawns such illegalities."
Bukovsky, who has been touring the United States under AFL-CIO auspices since his expulsion from the Soviet Union a year ago, also praised the Labor federation but accused Western governments of being "remarkably bashful in their statements about human rights."
Praising Sol Chaikin president of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, as the "one voice [that] spoke out in defense of human rights" at the Belgrade conference to assess the impact of the Helsinki accords. Bukovsky said. "It looks as if the Western countries signed the Helsinki agreements just for fun to cover their deals with the Soviet Union with those vague formulas."
The convention also heard Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.), who said the government should listen more to the AFL-CIO on foreign policy matters and concluded: "Secretaries of State come and go. Thank God the AFL-CIO remains."