Lane Kirkland, who was president of the AFL-CIO from 1979 to 1995 and who resigned after an unprecedented revolt of union presidents against him, died Saturday morning (Aug. 14, 1999) at his home in Washington. He was 77.
The cause of death was lung cancer, said his wife, Irena Kirkland.
Together, Mr. Kirkland and George Meany, his predecessor as president of the AFL-CIO and his longtime friend and mentor, led the U.S. labor movement for nearly 45 years.
While Mr. Kirkland was serving almost 16 years as president of the labor organization, the U.S. economy and the workplace experienced drastic change. Plants closed, jobs were lost, union membership shrank, and the importance of unions diminished.
Mr. Kirkland was an ardent anti-communist and was proud of his organization's efforts to help the Solidarity movement in bringing democracy to Poland. But a major criticism of the labor leaders who forced him from office was that he lacked the same intense interest when it came to energizing American workers and winning them over to trade unionism.
Although the AFL-CIO has become more vigorous since Mr. Kirkland's resignation, it remains unclear whether the U.S. labor movement can ever rebound and recapture its former power. When Mr. Kirkland assumed office, 24 percent of the workers in the United States belonged to unions. When he resigned, the figure was 15.5 percent. Today, it is 13.9 percent.
Joseph Lane Kirkland _ everyone called him Lane _ was born on March 12, 1922, in Camden, S.C., the son of Randolph Withers Kirkland, a cotton buyer, and the former Louise Richardson.
In the 1970s, as AFL-CIO president Meany's health declined, Mr. Kirkland often ran the labor organization. In September 1979, Meany, then 85, announced his retirement, and in November Mr. Kirkland was named president.
He regarded as his biggest achievement persuading the autoworkers, the mine workers, the longshoremen and warehousemen, and the Teamsters to join or rejoin the AFL-CIO.
In early 1995 an open revolt broke out. John Sweeney, then president of service employees, twice asked Mr. Kirkland to retire.
In June that year, with presidents of some 20 unions opposing him, Mr. Kirkland said he would resign in August, becoming the only president in the American Federation of Labor's then 109-year history to be forced to step down.
Survivors include his wife, the former Irena Neumann, a German concentration-camp survivor whom he married in 1973, and five children from his first marriage, to Edith Draper Hollyday, which ended in divorce in 1972. He is also survived by five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.