In early June, Larry Cohen stepped down from his 10-year tenure as president of the Communications Workers of America (CWA), the 700,000-member union of telephone, airline, broadcast, journalism (including In These Times’ staff), and government workers, among others. “That’s unusual for union guys, who like to stay when they’re at the top,” says Martin Morand, a former labor studies professor and organizer.
But Cohen has often departed from the usual. He promoted internal union democracy and membership involvement far more than the average union leader, and mobilized labor for causes that stretch the definition of union politics—from strong environmental action to electoral reform.
“George Bernard Shaw observed that trade unionism is not socialism,” says Morand. “It’s capitalism of the proletariat. But Cohen saw it as a social cause—not an end in itself but a means of transforming society.”