John J. Sweeney

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John Sweeney

Template:TOCnestleft John J. Sweeney is the current President Emeritus of the AFL-CIO. He was president of the organization for four terms, from 1995 to 2009.[1]

According to his biography, Sweeney was born May 5, 1934 in the Bronx. He graduated from Iona College in New Rochelle, N.Y. with a degree in economics and holds honorary degrees from Oberlin College, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, the University of Baltimore, Catholic University Law School and the University of Toledo’s College of Law. He lives in Washington with his wife Maureen who is a former New York City school teacher. They have two grown children, John and Patricia.[2]

As of March 2009 John Sweeney served on the board of Institute for America's Future.

Democratic Agenda conference


Congresswoman Barbara Mikulski was an invited as a speaker to the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee organized Democratic Agenda conference, scheduled for 1982 in Newark, New Jersey. Other invited speakers included New York City Councillor Ruth Messinger, SEIU President John Sweeney, Coalition of Labor Union Women President Joyce Miller, and Americans for Democratic Action President Robert Drinan.


The 1995 election for AFL-CIO presidential position was the first contested election in AFL-CIO history and Sweeney emerged as the organization's president. At that time, Sweeney was president of the Service Employees International Union, and had been its president for 15 years as he was elected to the position in 1980.

He was a vice president of the AFL-CIO and chair of the AFL-CIO Executive Council committees on Health Care and Organizing and Field Services.

In May 2000, Sweeney was also elected president of the Trade Union Advisory Committee (TUAC).

Sweeney’s first job in the labor movement was with the International Ladies’ Garment Workers, which later merged with the Clothing and Textile Workers Union. He joined SEIU Local 32B in New York City in 1961 as a union representative and was later elected president of it in 1976. In that position he led two citywide strikes of apartment maintenance workers during the 1970s.

In 1996 he authored America Needs A Raise: Fighting for Economic Security and Social Justice (published by Houghton-Mifflin), he co-authored Solutions for the New Work Force in 1989, and he co-edited the UNA-USA Economic Policy Council’s Family and Work: Bridging the Gap in 1987.[2]

AFL-CIO socialist takeover

Circa 1994, AFSCME president Gerald McEntee approached the AFL-CIO with his idea for Project '95, a coalition effort aimed at retaking the House, for the Democratic Party, but AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland demurred. With that, McEntee and fellow Democratic Socialists of America supporter John Sweeney began canvassing their colleagues about Kirkland's removal. In short order, they amassed support from a coalition that included not just the core of the old CIO (the Auto Workers, Steelworkers, Mine Workers), but the Machinists, Ron Carey's new-model Teamsters, the Carpenters and the Laborers.

What began as dissatisfaction among top labor leaders with the Big Sleep of the Kirkland era evolved in the course of the year to the most profound move to the left since the founding of the CIO. Sweeney formally joined DSA and assumed the presidency of the U.S.s largest labor federation.[3]

"Progressive coalition"

According to Democratic Socialists of America member and journalistHarold Meyerson, the "progressive coalition" of labor unionists which ousted conservative AFL-CIO president Lane Kirkland in 1994-95 and replaced him with DSA member John Sweeney was led by Gerald McEntee, John Sweeney, Richard Trumka, and George Kourpias (all identified DSA affiliates). The coalition selected Trumka as Sweeney's running mate against the conservative faction's choice Tom Donahue.[4]

Clinton health adviser

John Sweeney was a national health- care adviser to Bill Clinton in 1992, and his new book, America Needs a Raise, was ghosted by David Kusnet, Clinton's chief speechwriter from 1992-94.[5]


At the time he was elected president of the AFL-CIO, Sweeney was president of the Service Employees International Union. He had been its president for 15 years, since he was elected to the position in 1980.

Democratic Socialists of America

A few months prior to his 1995 election to the presidency of AFL-CIO, John Sweeney joined[6]Democratic Socialists of America.


On taking over the AFL-CIO Sweeney formed alliances with the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), the National Organization for Women, Michael Lerner's Summit on Ethics and Meaning, the Institute for Policy Studies, the Natural Law Party, the Rainbow Coalition, and Voters for Choice, among others.[7]

Campaign for America's Future

In 1996 John Sweeney, AFL-CIO was one of the original 130 founders of Campaign for America's Future.[8]

Socialist Debs award

Every year since the mid 1960s the Indiana based Eugene V. Debs Foundation holds Eugene Debs Award Banquet in Terre Haute, to honor an approved social or labor activist. The 1997 honoree, was John J. Sweeney.[9]

Watsonville UFW march

In 1997 the United Farm Workers, with the support and participation of the AFL-CIO, mobilized over 30,000 farmworkers and supporters in the Strawberry Capitol of the World: Watsonville, California. The march was lead by UFW leaders, Jesse Jackson, John Sweeney, Ron Carey of the Teamsters Union, Martin Sheen, and a "host of dignitaries". A particularly strong contingent came from the UCLA MeCha which mobilized close to 100 Chicano students.

Dolores Huerta, UFW vice president, an Honorary Chair of DSA , and a supporter of the DSA Latino Commission, welcomed the marchers.

Arturo Rodriguez, the new President of the United Farmworkers and heir to the tradition of Cesar Chavez, delivered his speech in English and in Spanish. John Sweeney and Richard Trumka addressed the crowd, with translation provided by Louis Valdez and others. DSA contingents came from Sacramento, Los Angeles, and San Diego as well as the Latino Commission. [10]

"One Electorate under God?"

"One Electorate under God?: A Dialogue on Religion and American Politics"

Edited by E. J. Dionne, Jean Bethke Elshtain, and Kayla Meltzer Drogosz, June 14, 2004.

The United States has been described as a nation with the soul of a church. Religion is discussed more explicitly and more urgently in American politics than in the public debates of any other wealthy democracy. It is certain to play an important role in the elections of 2004. Yet debates over religion and politics are often narrow and highly partisan, although the questions at hand demand a broader and more civil discussion. One Electorate under God? widens the dialogue by bringing together in one volume some of the most influential voices in American intellectual and political life.

This book draws on a public debate between former New York governor Mario Cuomo and Indiana congressman Mark Souder, who discuss how their respective faith convictions have been both shaped by and reflected in their careers as public servants. This discussion, in turn, prompted commentary by a diverse group of scholars, politicians, journalists, and religious leaders who are engaged simultaneously in the religious and policy realms. Each contributor offers insights on how political leaders and religious convictions shape our politics. One Electorate under God arises from the idea that public deliberation is more honest—and more democratic—when officials are open and reflective about the interactions between their religious convictions and their commitments in the secular realm.

This volume—the first of its kind—seeks to promote a greater understanding of American thinking about faith and public office in a pluralistic society. Contributors include Joanna Adams, Azizah Al-Hibri, Doug Bandow, Michael Barone, Gary Bauer, Robert Bellah, David Brooks, Harvey Cox, Michael Cromartie, John Dilulio Jr., Terry Eastland, Robert Edgar, Jean Bethke Elshtain, Richard Wightman Fox, William Galston, Robert George, Andrew Greeley, John Green, Anna Greenberg, Susannah Heschel, Representative Amo Houghton (R-New York), Michael Kazin, Martha Minow, Stephen Monsma, Mark Noll, Rabbi David Novak, Ramesh Ponnuru, Representative David Price (D-North Carolina), Jeffrey Rosen, Cheryl Sanders, Ronald Sider, Jim Skillen, Matthew Spalding, Jeffrey Stout, John Sweeney, Roberto Suro, Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, Jim Towey, Doug Tanner, Mark Warren, Alan Wolfe, and Andrew Young.[11]

IPS connection

On September 23, 2003 the radical Institute for Policy Studies held its 27th annual Letelier-Moffitt Memorial Human Rights Awards.

With special musical performance by Isabel Aldunate in remembrance of the 30th anniversary of the military coup in Chile[12]

European Socialist ties

The Party of European Socialists dialogue with the US Democrats and the Transatlantic partnership "was a priority over the last years" (written in 2009).

Delegations, meetings and exchanges of information were held on a regular basis. After the victory in the Congress, where the Democrats won the double majority, a Party of European Socialists Delegation, led by PES President Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, discovered the new mood in Washington D.C., on 15-18 April 2007. It had meetings with Governor Howard Dean, Chair of the DLC; Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA), Chairman of the Committee on Financial Services; Senator Bernie Sanders and with Senator Ben Cardin; John Podesta, CEO of the Center for American Progress, Former Chief of staff of President Clinton; John Sweeney, President of the AFL-CIO and Andy Stern, Chair of Service Employees International Union (SEIU). The underlying motive of the delegation was reiterated with the need for US and EU progressive forces to actively prepare for the post-Bush EU-US relations. [13]

American Rights at Work

In 2008 John Sweeney served on the board of directors[14]of American Rights at Work.

CBTU 2009 conference

On May 23, 2009 Carolyn Williams, William Lucy, Honorable Bennie Thompson Rev. Dr. Joseph E. Lowery, John Sweeney addressed the Awards Banquet of the 38th Annual Convention of Coalition of Black Trade Unionists in Atlanta, GA.[15]

Global Progressive Forum, Brussels 2009

Progressives from all over the world are getting together in Brussels on April 2-3, 2009 at the Global Progressive Forum to discuss how to create a better globalization for people.

The Global Progressive Forum brings together politicians, trade unions, NGOs and progressive representatives of international organizations. Participants confirmed to date include President Bill Clinton, Pascal Lamy, Howard Dean, Barney Frank, Helen Clark, Antonio Guterres, Vandana Shiva, Salima Ghezali, Susan George, Zwelinzima Vavi, Aminata Traore, Chico Whitaker and many more. The challenges are finding new answers to the global crisis – including economic and financial crisis, food crisis and climate and energy crisis – and stepping up efforts to work together to reshape globalization.

Key moments include

  • Opening event at 15.00 on Thursday 2 April with President Bill Clinton
  • Workshop 1: Progressive politics in Globalization at 16.00 on Thursday 2 April with Howard Dean
  • Workshop 10: A New direction for capitalism at 9.00 on Friday 3 April with Pascal Lamy and Barney Frank
  • ‘Time for a Global New Deal’ at 12.00 on Friday 3 April: Signing of declaration for a better globalization with high level politicians, trade unionists and NGO representatives and outstanding international personalities.

The Global Progressive Forum is timed to coincide with the G20 meeting in London and the NATO anniversary events in Strasbourg.

Some 2,000 participants are expected over the two days including many PES activists and young progressives from all over Europe as well as trade unionists, NGOs and students.[16]

10.30-12.00 Workshop 10: New direction for capitalism (Hemicycle)

Supporting Coalition of Immokalee Workers

Rep. John Conyers, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (speaking) and Sen. Dick Durbin, joined by AFL-CIO President John Sweeney (second from left) gathered in the shadow of the Capitol building in Washington, DC, March 13th 2008


The Coalition of Immokalee Workers' petition drive to end sweatshop conditions in Florida's tomato fields received a warm welcome in Washington, DC. Senator Dick Durbin joined Senator Bernie Sanders, Representatives Dennis Kucinich and John Conyers, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney and representatives from dozens of human rights, religious, labor, and student organizations joined the CIW's call to end sweatshops and slavery in the fields.

Senator Sanders decried the "desperate conditions, conditions that in some cases are so extreme that even the Bush Administration has brought slavery charges," in Florida's fields, and announced that a hearing into those conditions is scheduled for April 15th.

Senator Durbin announced that a letter had been sent to "seven companies -- Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., Winn-Dixie Stores Inc., Kroger Co., Publix, Safeway Inc., US Food Service, Supervalu Inc., and Sysco Corp. -- asking them to join McDonald's and Yum Brands in the extra penny a pound program."[17]

Presidential Medal of Freedom


In February 2010, John Sweeney was awarded America's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, by president Barack Obama.

Awarding the medal to Sweeney Obama said, “The Bronx-born son of Irish immigrants, John Sweeney was shaped by three things. His family -- his mother was a maid, his father was a bus driver -- instilled in him that fundamentally American idea that through hard work, we can make of our lives what we will. The church taught him our obligations to ourselves and one another. And as a child, he saw that by banding together in a union, we can accomplish great things that we can’t accomplish alone.

“John devoted his career to the labor movement, adding working folks to its ranks and fighting for fair working conditions and fair wages. As the head of the AFL-CIO, he was responsible for dozens of unions with millions of working families. Family. Faith. Fidelity to the common good. These are the values that make John Sweeney who he is; values at the heart of a labor movement that has helped build the world’s greatest middle class.”[18]

ARA conference


AFL-CIO President Emeritus John Sweeney spoke to Alliance for Retired Americans on opening day of legislative conference 2011.

External links


Template:Reflist Template:Eugene V. Debs Award recipients Template:Campaign for America's Future co-founders