Remembering Joyce Miller, 1929-2012

By Lee Levin

Joyce Miller (left) receiving the 1983 Chicago DSA the Thomas – Debs Award

Labor leader Joyce Miller died on June 30 at the age of 84. Women workers lost a leader and a friend, and the labor movement a powerful and informed voice for social and economic justice.

I worked with Joyce Miller for nine years. As president of the Coalition of Labor Union women from 1979 to 1993, she brought me on board to coordinate the 1982 convention, and I soon became her special assistant and the organization’s executive director. I also learned a great deal from her as a mentor and a friend. She had outstanding political and organizational skills and could maneuver through the toughest situations — all with her trade union and feminist principles intact.

Enraged by the sexism in the workplace and even in the labor movement, passionate about working women’s rights and the need to increase the number of women in union leadership positions, she built CLUW as a vehicle for training women union members to lead. She was also the first woman to sit on the AFL-CIO Executive Council, to which she was elected in 1980.

During her tenure at CLUW, the organization embarked on several groundbreaking projects, including the first national conference on organizing women workers, which was held in 1982. In 1985 CLUW focused solely on family and work issues, publishing Bargaining for Childcare, and culminating in a national rally in Washington, D.C. attended by more than 50,000 trade unionists demanding passage of the Family and Medical Leave Act. DSA was among the rally’s many endorsers.

Even after she left CLUW in 1993 to head the Clinton administration’s Glass Ceiling Commission, Joyce remained close, attending every convention and keeping in touch with current and former staff. I always received a call from her reporting how great she thought the convention was and the quality and diversity of delegates attending.

After graduating from the University of Chicago with a degree in social science, Joyce was hired by the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union’s Chicago joint board to serve as its education director. There, she established a model social service program that included a quality child care program— a first for the labor movement. She also built an active retiree program, initiated college scholarships for members’ children and set up an Employee Assistance Plan. Murray Finley, the first president of the newly merged Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union, brought her to New York. From there she created a national program based on her successful Chicago model.

DSA’s Michael Harrington was a good friend and comrade with whom she worked as a founding member of the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee, a predecessor organization to DSA, and she always made herself available to speak at DSOC conventions, bringing the same passion for justice that guided all her work.

Lee Levin was executive director of the Coalition of Labor Union Women from 1982 to 1989 and has since held contract administration and negotiation positions with several leading unions.

 

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