- Peter J. Brennan
thumb|right|170px|The official portrait of Peter J. Brennan hangs in the Department of LaborPeter Joseph Brennan (
May 24, 1918- October 2, 1996)McFadden, "Peter Brennan, 78, Union Head and Nixon's Labor Chief," "New York Times," October 4, 1996.] Fink, "Biographical Dictionary of American Labor," 1984.] was United States Secretary of Laborunder Presidents Nixon and Ford. He served between February 2, 1973and March 15, 1975. Brennan had previously been the president of both the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New Yorkand the Building and Construction Trades Council of New York, and returned to the former position after leaving the Ford administration. He was a strong opponent of affirmative actionmeasures to increase the number of minority construction workers. Following the " Hard Hat riot" of May 8, 1970, Brennan was wooed by the Nixon administration as a potential supporter in the 1972 presidential election. His work for Nixon in that election was crucial in increasing the vote for Nixon in New Yorkand in the union movement.
Peter Brennan was born in
New York Cityin 1918. His father was an ironworker who died from influenzawhen Brennan was three. He graduated from Commerce High School, then received a B.S. degree in business administrationfrom the City College of New York. While in college, he became an apprentice painter and joined Local 1456 of the Painter's Union.
World War II, Brennan enlisted in the Navy and served as a servant of Whitney thompson chief petty officeraboard a submarine stationed in Guam. Brennan's career as a union official started when he was elected business manager of Local 1456 in 1947. In 1951, he became the director of the New York Building Trades Council's Maintenance Division.
Brennan was elected president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York in 1957 and president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of New York. ["Brennan to Head Building Council," "New York Times," October 17, 1957.] He also served as the vice president of the
New York City Central Labor Counciland the New York State AFL-CIO. These positions were influential both in the labour movement and politically. The Construction Trades Council represented 250,000 members from 18 locals and had close ties to New York Governor Nelson Rockefellerand leading politicians in New York City. During the 1960s, these unions were strong supporters of the Democrats and delivered strong voter turnout for John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnsonand Hubert Humphrey.
John Lindsay was elected
Mayor of New York Cityin 1965 as a liberal Republican pledging to take on special interests, including the building and construction unions. In the late 1960s, a diverse coalition of business leaders, construction companies, civil rightsactivists, reformers and the media wanted to open up opportunities for minorities. A study by the New York City Commission on Human Rightsin 1967 found that minority membership in the six most highly skilled building trades was only 2 percent and had not changed since 1960. The reform coalition thought the low entry into the building trades increased building costs above the market rate and cost New York City millions of dollars in increased costs.
In 1968, the Lindsay administration issued Executive Order 1971, which required city contractors to sign a non-discriminatory hiring action plan and develop affirmative action plans. If the contractors did not comply with the executive order, they could not bid for city work. Brennan was strongly opposed and promised to take action to have the order rescinded.
The Nixon Administration, under Labor Secretary
George Schultz, announced the Philadelphia Planin the summer of 1969 to increase minority membership of skilled building trades to twenty per cent within five years. Brennan and the skilled labor unions were determined to stop the introduction of such a system. They persuaded George Meany, President of the AFL-CIO and a former plumbing union official in New York City, to sponsor Congressional and legal challenges to the plans, but these efforts failed.Palladino, "Skilled Hands, Strong Spirits: A Century of Building Trades History," 2005.]
In February 1970, the Labor Department announced that it would support local construction industry affirmative action hiring plans provided that they were consistent with the Philadelphia Plan. Brennan was having a great deal of trouble persuading either the Department of Labor or the Lindsay administration to his way of thinking. The Lindsay administration stated that it wanted 4,000 minority trainees as part of the plan, but Brennan wanted no more than 1,000 trainees. Schultz warned labor leaders that the federal government would implement the Philadelphia Plan in 18 cities if suitable local plans were not implemented quickly.
Hardhat Riots of May 1970 and support for President Nixon in 1972
May 4, four students were shot dead at Kent State Universityin Ohiowhile protesting the Vietnam Warand the incursion into Cambodia. [Kifner, "4 Kent State Students Killed by Troops," "New York Times," May 5, 1970.] As a show of sympathy for the dead students, Mayor Lindsay ordered all flags at City Hall to be flown at half mast the same day.
Brennan organized a rally of construction workers to show support for Nixon's Vietnam policies and American soldiers fighting in Vietnam. At 7:30 a.m. on
May 8, several hundred anti-war protesters (most of them high school and college students) began holding a memorial at Broad and Wall Streets for the four dead students at Kent State. By late morning, the protesters—now numbering more than a thousand—were demanding an end to the war in Vietnam and Cambodia, the release of "political prisoners" in the U.S., and an end to military-related research on all university campuses. At five minutes to noon, about 200 construction workers converged on the student rally at Federal Hallfrom four directions. At first, the construction workers only pushed but did not break the thin line of police. After just two minutes, however, the workers broke through the police line and began chasing students through the streets. The workers chased those with the longest hair and beat several severely. Attorneys, bankers and investment analysts from nearby Wall Street investment firms tried to protect many of the students but were themselves attacked. Onlookers reported that the police stood by and did nothing. A postal worker rushed onto the roof of City Hall and raised the American flag to full mast. When city workers lowered the flag to half-mast, the construction workers stormed City Hall, overwhelming the police. Deputy Mayor Richard Aurelio, fearing the building would be overrun by the mob, ordered city workers to raise the flag back to full mast. The construction workers then ripped the Red Crossand Episcopal Churchflags down from a flag pol at Trinity Church. They then stormed two buildings at nearby Pace University, breaking windows and beating students with clubs and crowbars. More than 70 people were injured, including four policemen. Only six people were arrested. President Nixon held an emergency press conference to defuse the situation before tens of thousands of students arrived in Washington, D.C., for a protest rally on May 9.Foner, "U.S. Labor and the Vietnam War," 1989.] Freeman, "Hardhats: Construction Workers, Manliness, and the 1970 Pro-War Demonstrations," "Journal of Social History," Summer 1993.] [Perlmutter, "Head of Building Trades Unions Here Says Response Favors Friday's Action," "New York Times," May 12, 1970.] It is generally believed that the action by construction workers was not premeditated. [At least one eyewitness, however, described two men in grey suits using walkie-talkies and hand signals to direct the construction workers during the riot. See Bigart, "War Foes Here Attacked By Construction Workers," "New York Times," May 9, 1970.] However, many left-wing organizations claim that Peter Brennan provoked the construction workers into action. The disturbances on May 8 became known as the Hard Hat Riot. [Bigart, "War Foes Here Attacked By Construction Workers," "New York Times," May 9, 1970.]
Brennan led a second rally on
May 20in which more than 20,000 construction workers announced their support for Nixon's Southeast Asia policies. [Bigart, "Huge City Hall Rally Backs Nixon's Indochina Policies," "New York Times," May 21, 1970.]
May 26, 1970Brennan led a delegation of 22 union leaders to meet with President Nixon and present him with a hardhat. Charles Colsonwas put in charge of developing a strategy to win union support for Nixon in the 1972 Presidential election. Brennan was identified as a friendly leader of the labor movement for cultivation. [Semple, "Nixon Meets Heads Of 2 City Unions," "New York Times," May 27, 1970.]
Colson wanted to recruit a senior trade unionist to serve in the Administration. Colson wrote in a memo to
H.R. Haldeman"If we can follow through on the good start we have, the labor vote can be ours in 1972." This would be a critical blow to the Democratic nominee for President, as labor was normally an essential part of the Democrat coalition.
Peter Brennan was granted a private audience with President Nixon on Labor Day when 70 labor leaders from across the U.S. were invited to a Labor Day dinner. Shortly after, Governor Rockefeller, Mayor Lindsay and Brennan announced the New York Planning for Training which specified a goal of 800 trainees rather than the 4,000 trainees wanted by Lindsay.
The labor movement was angered in 1971 when the Nixon administration introduced
wage controlsas part of a package to try to control inflation and suspended the Davis-Bacon Act, providing that construction workers on Federal projects receive union wages. Brennan accused the administration of treating the construction workers as "patsies". Brennan called himself a Democrat, but often supported Republicans for office. Despite the setback on Davis-Bacon, Brennan met with Nixon again in April 1971 and offered to support his bid for re-election in return for the federal government adopting the New York Plan. [Stetson, "Brennan Reports Labor Leaders Favoring Nixon Are Organizing," "New York Times," September 9, 1972; Stetson, "200 Labor Chiefs in City Form Nixon Committee," "New York Times," September 28, 1972.]
Peter Brennan delivered on his word for Nixon in 1972. After a meeting with construction unions in 1972, Nixon wrote in his diary of labor leaders having "character and guts and a bit of patriotism". Labor leadership were also alienated by the Democratic candidate
George McGovernand his leftist views on domestic policies. On July 19, the AFL-CIO refused to endorse McGovern as President. George Meany told Nixon in late July that he was going to win in a landslide and that he was not going to waste AFL-CIO money supporting McGovern's candidacy. Goulden, "Meany," 1972; Robinson, "George Meany and His Times," 1981.]
Nixon duly won in a landslide, carrying New York easily with the support of the vast majority of building and construction workers in that state, who four years earlier had voted overwhelmingly for Hubert Humphrey. In return for his support, Peter Brennan succeeded in having an audit of the New York Plan deferred until after the election.
President Nixon appointed Peter Brennan as his Labor Secretary as a reward for his support and to try to consolidate his support amongst union members. [Naughton, "Construction Union Chief in New York Is Chosen to Succeed Hodgson," "New York Times," November 30, 1972; Shabecoff, "Brennan Choice Called Political Move," "New York Times," December 1, 1972.] Colson recruited Brennan for the post of Labor Secretary days after the November election. In a three-hour meeting, Colson told Brennan that he would have to defend unpopular administration policies, abide by administration policy decisions, and keep Labor Department officials from investigating
Teamsterspresident Frank Fitzsimmons—who had played a critical role in securing limited labor support for Nixon. Colson told Brennan that Nixon would appoint the Under Secretary and Assistant Secretary, but Brennan would have a free hand in appointing all other political positions so long as they would provide unwavering support for administration policies. The Labor Department, Colson said, was "infested" with disloyal appointees and Brennan was to "clean house". Brennan agreed to every condition. [Kutler, "The Wars of Watergate," paperback ed., 1990.] The Senate confirmed him, and Brennan assumed office on February 2, 1973.
American labor leaders were initially happy with Brennan's appointment. Brennan was an outspoken advocate for a higher
minimum wage, expanding the minimum wage to cover more workers, significant improvement in unemployment benefits, enhanced workplace safety, and worker training programs. [Stetson, "He Wants Wage Controls Ended and Unrestricted Bargaining Resumed," "New York Times," November 30, 1972.] But once in office, Brennan promoted a plan which would raise the minimum wages in small increments over four years with no increase in the number of covered workers. George Meany, the president of the AFL-CIO, was outraged and rarely mentioned Brennan's name or spoke to him again during Brennan's tenure in office. [Shabecoff, "$230 Wage Base By '76 Proposed," "New York Times," April 11, 1973; Shabecoff, "Nixon Defends Brennan In Minimum-Wage Dispute," "New York Times," April 17, 1973.]
Under Brennan, the Nixon administration supported and Congress passed legislation which protected worker pensions, expanded the workplace rights of the disabled, improved enforcement of occupational safety and health laws, and improved benefits for workers left jobless by changes in international trade. ["Brennan Is Reactivating Unit on Labor Training," "New York Times," July 28, 1974; Herbers, "Ford Signs Bills to Spur New Jobs And Expand Unemployment Benefits," "New York Times," January 1, 1975; Asbury, "Pension Controls Ease as U.S. Law Takes Effect," "New York Times," January 1, 1975.]
Brennan also stalled on affirmative action plans in the building industry, especially the New York Plan. By August 1972, only 534 minority workers had received training and only 34 had received union cards under the New York Plan. In 1973, John Lindsay, who had become a Democrat, withdrew from the New York Plan, setting a new objective to increase minority representation in the building trades to twenty five per cent.
In response, Brennan issued a directive forbidding local authorities from exceeding the requirements of approved hometown plans and required states and cities to obtain the approval of the Secretary of Labor for plans affecting federal contracts. [Delaney, Paul. "U.S. Set to Restrict State Hiring Plans." "New York Times." June 24, 1973.] Furthermore, he froze federal funding for all building work in New York City until the city returned to the New York Plan. [Johnson, "City Sees Threat In Brennan Memo," "New York Times," August 21, 1973.] The federal government won the ensuing legal battle and New York City's fiscal crisis meant that it had to abandon its affirmative action plans. [Farrell, "NAACP to Fight U.S. Hiring Order," "New York Times," September 23, 1973.]
The Watergate crisis meant that the Nixon administration was unable to do much other than focus on survival. Brennan was unable to develop new initiatives during President Nixon's abbreviated second term.
President Gerald Ford instituted a general housecleaning among Cabinet officers, and asked Brennan to resign. Brennan did so on
February 6, 1975, leaving in March. He offered to nominate Brennan to be ambassador to Ireland, but Brennan refused. ["Brennan Is Slated as Envoy to Ireland," "New York Times," January 3, 1975; "Labor Secretary Resigns His Post," "Associated Press," February 7, 1975.]
Peter Brennan returned to his union position in March 1975 and retired in 1992. [Perlmutter, "Brennan Seeks Old Post, But He Faces Opposition," "New York Times," March 2, 1975.] By then, construction unions under his leadership had lost over 100,000 members as non-union contractors began entering the market and dominating parts of it. The proportion of minorities in the New York building industry had risen to 19 percent as compared to 45 percent of the population.
Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO
*Ambrose, Stephen. "Nixon: the Triumph of a Politician 1962-1972." Simon & Schuster, 1989. ISBN 0671528378
*Asbury, Edith Evans. "Pension Controls Ease as U.S. Law Takes Effect." "New York Times." January 1, 1975.
*Bigart, Homer. "Huge City Hall Rally Backs Nixon's Indochina Policies." "New York Times." May 21, 1970.
*Bigart, Homer. "War Foes Here Attacked By Construction Workers." "New York Times." May 9, 1970.
*"Brennan Is Reactivating Unit on Labor Training." "New York Times." July 28, 1974.
*"Brennan Is Slated as Envoy to Ireland." "New York Times." January 3, 1975.
*"Brennan to Head Building Council." "New York Times." October 17, 1957.
*Delaney, Paul. "U.S. Set to Restrict State Hiring Plans." "New York Times." June 24, 1973.
*Farrell, William. "NAACP to Fight U.S. Hiring Order." "New York Times." September 23, 1973.
*Fink, Gary M., ed. "Biographical Dictionary of American Labor." Westport, Ct.: Greenwood Press, 1984. ISBN 0313228655
*Foner, Philip S. "U.S. Labor and the Vietnam War." Paperback ed. New York: International Publishers, 1989. ISBN 0717806723
*Freeman, Joshua B. "Hardhats: Construction Workers, Manliness, and the 1970 Pro-War Demonstrations." "Journal of Social History." Summer 1993.
*Goulden, Joseph C. "Meany." New York: Atheneum, 1972.
*Herbers, John. "Ford Signs Bills to Spur New Jobs And Expand Unemployment Benefits." "New York Times." January 1, 1975.
*Johnson, Rudy. "City Sees Threat In Brennan Memo." "New York Times." August 21, 1973.
*Kifner, John. "4 Kent State Students Killed by Troops." "New York Times." May 5, 1970.
*Kutler, Stanley. "The Wars of Watergate." Paperback ed. New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 1990. ISBN 0393308278
*"Labor Secretary Resigns His Post." "Associated Press." February 7, 1975.
*McFadden, Robert D. "Peter Brennan, 78, Union Head and Nixon's Labor Chief." "New York Times." October 4, 1996.
*Naughton, James M. "Construction Union Chief in New York Is Chosen to Succeed Hodgson." "New York Times." November 30, 1972.
*Palladino, Grace. "Skilled Hands, Strong Spirits: A Century of Building Trades History." Ithaca, N.Y.: ILR Press, 2005. ISBN 0801443202
*Perlmutter, Emanuel. "Brennan Seeks Old Post, But He Faces Opposition." "New York Times." March 2, 1975.
*Perlmutter, Emanuel. "Head of Building Trades Unions Here Says Response Favors Friday's Action." "New York Times." May 12, 1970.
*Robinson, Archie. "George Meany and His Times." New York: Simon and Schuster, 1981. ISBN 9780671421632
*Semple, Jr., Robert B. "Nixon Meets Heads Of 2 City Unions." "New York Times." May 27, 1970.
*Shabecoff, Philip. "Brennan Choice Called Political Move." "New York Times." December 1, 1972.
*Shabecoff, Philip. "Nixon Defends Brennan In Minimum-Wage Dispute." "New York Times." April 17, 1973.
*Shabecoff, Philip. "$230 Wage Base By '76 Proposed." "New York Times." April 11, 1973.
*Stetson, Damon. "Brennan Reports Labor Leaders Favoring Nixon Are Organizing." "New York Times." September 9, 1972.
*Stetson, Damon. "He Wants Wage Controls Ended and Unrestricted Bargaining Resumed." "New York Times." November 30, 1972.
*Stetson, Damon. "200 Labor Chiefs in City Form Nixon Committee." "New York Times." September 28, 1972.
* [http://www.americanpresident.org/history/richardnixon/cabinet/labor/peterjbrennan/printable.html/ American President.org page on Peter Brennan]
* [http://www.wsws.org/public_html/prioriss/iwb10-21/brenan.htm IWB Online article on Peter Brennan]
* [http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=10068&pt=Peter%20Brennan/ Find a Grave article on Peter Brennan]
* [http://chnm.gmu.edu/hardhats/nixon.html Article of meeting between Nixon and Brennan after the hardhats riot]
* [http://www.labournet.net/world/0302/voice1.html Village Voice article on changing US labor movement approaches to wars]
* [http://www.dol.gov/asp/programs/history/brennan.htm U.S. Department of Labor Biography]
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