Jerzy Kozminski, Poland's ambassador to the United States, was misidentified in a caption accompanying an article yesterday on the memorial service for former AFL-CIO president Lane Kirkland. (Published 09/25/1999)
He was a labor statesman, a passionate anti-Communist, an intellectual and a plain-spoken Southerner. He loved his dachshund, Stanley, and he loved to play "Solidarity Forever" on the harmonica. He was a family man and a loyal friend. But foremost, his colleagues and friends said yesterday, Lane Kirkland was the champion of the little guy.
His philosophy as a trade unionist was "to keep the big guys from kicking the little guys around," said President Clinton, one of 13 speakers who eulogized Kirkland at a memorial service held on the campus of Georgetown University. "Believe me, I got my fair share of lectures about it.
"He stood up for the little guy. It was his ideology. It was also his philosophy of life."
Kirkland, who spent his adult life working in the labor movement and then led the AFL-CIO as its president for 16 years, died of lung cancer last month at the age of 77.
Born Joseph Lane Kirkland in Camden, S.C., he began his career in the labor movement in 1948 when he joined the research department of the American Federation of Labor after graduating from the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown. The AFL merged with the Congress of Industrial Organizations in 1955, and Kirkland was elected president of the AFL-CIO in 1979. Until his retirement in 1995, he led the union during one of American labor's most difficult periods, which saw plant closings, downsizing and shrinking union membership. He was credited with uniting some of the country's largest unions--including the United Auto Workers and the Teamsters Union--which had split with the AFL-CIO.
Kirkland lived here, with his wife, Irena, who yesterday received the Polish republic's oldest and highest distinction, the Order of the White Eagle, for her husband's unflinching support of the Polish labor movement, Solidarity. The fledgling labor movement, with the crucial--and surreptitious--support of Kirkland and the AFL-CIO, eventually toppled Poland's Communist regime in 1989, triggering the events that brought democracy to the Soviet empire.
"I never had enough opportunity to thank Lane Kirkland for his enormous contribution for our struggle for a better world," said Nobel Peace Prize laureate Lech Walesa, former president of the Republic of Poland and of the shipyard workers union, Solidarity.
But it was Kirkland's unflagging support for the working guy at home that was honored yesterday as well. He went to jail with striking Latino janitors in Los Angeles, Appalachian coal miners in Virginia and airline workers in New York.
"He made a difference for working people in America," said AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney. "He was filled with the faith that everyday people can change the world."
Despite being described often as a liberal, he had friends across the political spectrum. Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger recalled that he and his wife and the Kirklands spent several Thanksgivings together. His voice choked with emotion, Kissinger said he last visited with Kirkland three days before his Aug. 14 death.
But not all was somber in Georgetown's Gaston Hall, where the memorial was held. The mourners laughed when Kirkland's daughter, Lucy Kirkland Schoenfeld, speaking on behalf of her four sisters, repeated his salty admonition "to never kiss ass." They applauded when she quoted his advice "to never cross a picket line."
"We miss him," she said, "and I still need him."