Association for Union Democracy

Cast A Long Shadow

In July of this year, the Association for Union Democracy lost a great light unto the American Labor movement, Herman Benson. “HB” was a longtime union activist and reformer, a founder of the Association for Union Democracy (and its newsletter precursor, Union Democracy in Action), and prolific writer about all matters related to trade unionism. He was 104 years old at the time of his death and only one week short of his next birthday. The hole that Herman has left in the American labor movement writ large can never be filled; from his first interactions with Labor in the 1930s up until his death, he thrust himself headlong into fray of political struggle to speak up in favor of the beleaguered and frequently, in his phrase, “lonely” union reformer. As chronicled in his book Rebels, Reformers and Racketeers, Herman used his knowledge of labor law to consult with and even occasionally befriend such union dissidents as Ed Sadlowski of the United Steelworkers of America, Jock Yablonski of the United Mine Workers, and Dow Wilson of the Brotherhood of Painters. Herman was a realist in his outlook, but retained idealism about the great potential Labor had for working people;

“Even when unions appear thoroughly bureaucratized and the membership inert, the membership itself tends to regenerate the democratic spirit. When unions call for justice, equality, fair play, and human dignity in society, these stirring ideals are echoed in the ranks and demanded inside the unions.”

The legacy that Herman bequeathed to the labor movement was the Association for Union Democracy, founded in 1969 with a small grant cobbled together with the help of a few allies. For over half a century, AUD has, to the best of its ability, extended a helping hand to the aforementioned “lonely union reformer” in their quest to fully exercise their democratic rights as union members, as promised in the landmark Landrum Griffin Act  (including the “Bill of Rights of Members of Labor Organizations” which Herman himself helped develop). This service is especially important in light of the Coronavirus Pandemic upending traditionally constituted workplaces and employee/employer relationships.

Even in the midst of a global pandemic, AUD continues to fight on behalf of union democracy. We continue to take phone calls and emails from rank and file union members and offer them counsel. In May, for instance, AUD offered advice to a candidate for union office from Illinois whose specific request regarding her campaign literature return stickers was ignored by the election committee of her local. She filed an internal complaint with her union citing her rights as promised by Section IV of the LMRDA. The result of which was her union’s international deciding in her favor as an internal remedy, thus legitimizing her case that the local was out of order to dictate a candidate’s return address.

We also continue to maintain our database of union democracy literature and legal precedent for the public at large to educate itself about our  mission. And we continue to monitor  developments in union democracy law and public policy for the sake of transparent governance at both the union government and administrative level.

But we need your help. Now more than ever it is important to uphold the mission of AUD and make certain no corruption or autocratic tendencies within the labor movement disturb the political rights granted to unionists nationwide by the Landrum Griffin Act. In the wake of Herman Benson’s death in July, many of you stepped forward and fulfilled his final admonition in his self-written obituary (see the AUD website to read the entire piece) and donated to AUD in HB’s honor. For this we are very grateful.

To continue to meet the logistical challenge of maintaining our office (virtually or otherwise) and serving the people who come to us for help, we ask won’t you please make a tax-deductible contribution and help further the mission of a transparent, responsive, and democratic unionism? It is through the provision and care of individuals like you that has made AUD such a strong and stalwart defender of union democracy for over half a century and we ask for your continued support.As Herman Benson himself put it in his self-written obituary, ‘In his last, dying words, Benson said, “This is the time for a donation to the Association for Union Democracy.Make it generous.’ 

Thank you!



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One Response

  1. My parents were both trade unionists and admirers of Herman. When I had the wonderful privilege to meet him as a grown up I found this hero to have feet not of clay, but of muscle–he was simply the most steadfast fighter for working men and women that can be imagined. And on top of all, he was a mensch, so lovely to the people around him. He was smart and honest, but I remember mostly: what a creature of light and warmth he was! Also, funny–that has to count, too!

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