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George Meany (1894-1980), the son of a plumber, started as a plumber himself but quickly became a union bureaucrat. He was named secretary-treasurer of the AFL in 1939 and succeeded to the presidency in 1952. He oversaw the reuniting of labor when the AFL and CIO merged in 1955 and became president of the combined group.

Meany never walked a picked line or led a strike. He pushed labor in a conservative direction during his tenure, which lasted until 1979. He resisted the inclusion of black workers and failed to support the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington. Meany represented unionism at its most complacent.

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