Few have achieved more for the American worker than Lane Kirkland; fewer still have received less credit than Lane for their pivotal roles. In Lane Kirkland, political writer Arch Puddington traces one man's steady rise to the most powerful position in organized labor, a position many claimed, with only slight exaggeration, was more important than the presidency of the United States.
Based on primary sourcesincluding Kirkland's own unfinished history of the labor movementthis engrossing biography is the first work to track the lifelong journey of this champion for the American worker and crusader for workers worldwide. Puddington creates a vivid portrait of Kirkland's unusual life story, from the small, impoverished mill town of his boyhood, to the corridors of power in Washington, D.C., to a trade union congress in Gdansk, Poland. He skillfully recounts Kirkland's role in some of the thorniest issues faced by American labor and how, with tenacious leadership, he forged the disparate and often feuding unions of American laborthe Teamsters, the United Auto Workers, the United Mine Workers, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, and the International Longshore and Warehouse Unioninto a unified and powerful political force. This meticulously researched biography also reveals how the positive transforming events of the New Deal in the South and Kirkland's enlistment in World War II shaped his lifelong political convictions that the United States possessed the strength and the wealth to expand freedom throughout the world and promote the welfare of its own people. This fierce commitment propelled him to the side of Polish Solidarity workers, where his steadfast support led to the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe.
Brimming with forgotten morsels of history, Lane Kirkland explores how this New Dealer and Cold Warrior fought doggedly for measures that brought concrete benefits to ordinary working men and women. Kirkland left an imprint on practically every piece of significant social legislation from the 1950s onward, from Social Security and the laws that eliminated racial segregation to Medicare and health and safety legislation. Whatever the issue, Kirkland believed that the voice of working Americans should be heard through their representatives in the labor movementand, for sixteen years, that voice was most often Kirkland's own.
From the Old South to the New Deal, from Washington, D.C., to Poland, from World War II to Vietnam, Lane Kirkland provides a probing, insightful look into the events that shaped an unassuming young boy into the most eloquent and effective spokesman for workers worldwide.