Women in the US labor movement have won a major objective -- recognition through membership in AFL-CIO's executive council, traditionally male-only until last week.
Women trade unionists hope that it will lead in time to further advances into top offices of unions where, as in business and politics, women hold few executive jobs.
Joyce Danne Miller, a New Jersey mother of three and longtime champion of women's rights in unions, was named to the AFL-CIO council in Chicago last week. She is the first woman to hold a major executive office in the federation.
Thomas Donahue, AFL secretary-treasurer, said that, despite the time it has taken to break the all-male tradition, The federation's record is "better than most in American society," and that a number of women and blacks hold top staff jobs.
Mrs. Miller is president of the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLWU) and a vice-president of the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers. As head of the 12,000-member CLWU, which works for the increased participation of women in union politics, she called on AFL-CIO to take the lead in recognizing women through appointments or election to policymaking offices. Mrs. Miller said that this would help give impetus to a "long-term serious campaign to bring the benefits of unionism to unorganized union workers. . . . in low-wage jobs in traditionally hard-to-organize industries."
Shortly after he succeeded George Meany as president of the federation, Lane Kirkland said he favored naming a woman to the AFL-CIO's exclusive executive council. Last February he prevailed on the group to agree that the next two appointments to the council would not have to be general officers of affiliated unions, a traditional prerequisite.
Last week the group dropped another tradition -- that no two members could come from the same union -- and appointed Mrs. Miller, widely considered the top woman trade unionist today, to a council vacancy.
On Mrs. Miller's appointment, Mr. Kirkland said, "I don't regard it as simply an act of tokenism or response to pressure. She should be positively helpful to us in our efforts to deal realistically with the expanding role of women in the work force and the trade union movement, an issue that has arisen very forcefully in recent years."