On this day in 1873, the labor leader William Green was born. At the age of 16, he went to work in a coal mine. By 18, he had become a union representative. And he went on to head the American Federation of Labor (AFL) for almost three decades — including the whole of the Great Depression. He is known for pursuing a “cooperative” strategy where labor tries to work with management. I think that’s really interesting, because he took the reins of AFL in 1924. Listening to people talk about labor now, you would think that the idea of labor working with management was only something they did recently and very reluctantly.
I’m not sure that it was the correct way to go. As far as I can tell, businesses are run by people who are not really able to cooperate. They are kind of like the Republican Party during the early years of Obama’s presidency: when offered cooperation, all they see is weakness. It doesn’t seem to matter how reasonable and helpful labor is, the capital class always wants to take power away from labor. And this is why we need a major rethink of our economic system.
Still, Green managed the AFL through an incredibly difficult economic period. He was probably the best man for the job at that time.
Happy birthday William Green!