Saturday, July 9, 2011

Herman Benson, the soul of the Association for Union Democracy

Herman Benson has spent the past 42 years as the soul of the Association for Union Democracy on a quest as elusive as the Holy Grail: to instill union democracy in the American labor movement. At the age of 96, he says that biology is finally catching up with him. Not that he is going to retire.
Benson recently informed AUD’s board of directors that he is relinquishing his roles as editor of the Union Democracy Review and secretary treasurer. He plans to continue as a member of the board of directors, to write from time to time for the Review, and to be on call via telephone and e-mail for union members who need his help. A lot of them have over the past decades.
Back in the late 1980’s Benson stepped down as AUD’s executive director passing that post to Susan Jennik, a union activist and labor lawyer. Benson and Jennik played central roles in assuring that the rank and file election of the Teamsters hierarchy, promised in the federal court decent decree aimed at cleaning the mob and corruption out of the union, was run by court-approved officers not the IBT and its locals.
As a result and with the significant help of Teamsters for a Democratic Union, Ron Carey became the first rank and file-elected president of International Brotherhood of Teamsters in 1991.
That must have been Benson’s crowning triumph. I’m sure that he enjoys the memories of dozens and dozens, maybe hundreds, of lesser victories.
Benson was in his 70s when he gave up his role as AUD’s executive director. At the time, I was Newsday’s labor writer and intended to do a major piece on his retirement and his dedication to trying to make the American labor movement a linchpin of democracy. Well, I didn’t write it because he didn’t retire. And the same is true now. He isn’t retiring and is continuing to do what he can as a one-man revolution of union democracy despite the claws of biology.

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