Remembering Larry Hanley

Posted May 2019

In 2015, longtime friends and supporters organized a party celebrating the 100th birthday of Herman Benson, founder of the Association for Union Democracy and a tireless advocate for the rights of workers to control their own unions.

Larry Hanley shared a story at that event that was one of his favorites. Early in his labor career, Larry was a Staten Island bus driver. He became active in his ATU local, and he started raising questions about why the union wasn’t doing more for its members. The local leaders made it clear with some minor and not so minor harassment that his questions weren’t welcome. His fellow workers made it clear that they liked someone speaking up. A friend suggested that Larry could get some useful information on his rights from the Association for Union Democracy. He visited Herman Benson, known to his friends simply as Ben, at the AUD office. After getting some pamphlets on workers’ rights, reference to a lawyer who would take on a pro bono case and answers to a lot of questions, Larry felt that he learned a lot.

As he was getting ready to leave, Larry decided to tell Benson that he would not keep bothering him because he was planning to bid for a job outside the bargaining unit and would no longer be a member of the local.

A short, wiry man, Ben was considerably older than Larry and a lot smaller. Nonetheless Larry recalled, when Ben stood up and started yelling, he was afraid that he was coming over to hit him. Instead Larry heard from Ben that he needed to keep up the struggle for democracy in his local.

Ben finished by saying, “you are not going to leave that union, you are going to lead that union, you son of a bitch.”

In re-telling the story in 2015, Larry, now ATU International President, turned to Ben and replied, “I am leading that union, you son of a bitch.”

The punch line worked. Larry often played the wise-cracking guy whose quick wit could get a good laugh. But this story tells us much more about Larry Hanley. International union presidents, former CWA President Larry Cohen noted, generally don’t come across as modest people. Look at this story again. Larry Hanley doesn’t present himself as the great hero of this tale. Rather, his account shows him to be a young and somewhat na├»ve activist who gets schooled by a veteran fighter.

Larry Hanley knew how to learn, and he kept learning his entire life. He also knew how to teach and how to lead. The quick wit was there, sure. So was deep learning about labor, a vast store of knowledge and tremendous intelligence. He offered a vision of how the ATU and all of the labor movement could renew itself. But his real goal was that labor would renew the world with a vision of justice and equality.

His role in leading the Transportation Learning Center as the Chair of our Board proved invaluable. He advocated for us when we needed him to do that. He opened union training sessions to give us a chance to discuss opportunities for union-led workforce development efforts. He conferred with me regularly to help think through problems and find solutions. Always a union militant, Larry also wanted to find ways to work with management to address issues, like training, that could benefit workers and the agency leadership.

Larry Hanley struggled with health problems, but anyone who interacted with him saw him as an incredibly vital presence. For me, and for all of us who knew him, it’s hard to believe that he’s gone from us at age 62.

It’s left to all of us to carry on Larry’s work. He’d expect no less.

Jack Clark, Executive Director

Here is a link to the ATU website with a short and eloquent statement from Executive Vice President Javier Perez and a moving statement from the Hanley family:

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