Jack Henning

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Jack Henning

John F. "Jack" Henning was a California labor leader. He died in June 2009, at his home in San Francisco.

Henning is survived by sons Brian Henning of San Francisco, Daniel Henning of San Rafael, John Henning, Jr. of Petaluma, Patrick Henning of Sacramento and Thomas Henning of Moraga; daughters Mary of San Francisco and Nancy Goulde of Amherst, Va.. His wife, Betty, died in 1994.[1]


John F. Henning was born Nov. 22, 1915, in San Francisco. His plumber father was thrown out of work for almost a year during an anti-union drive after World War I, according to his official labor biography.

The son of a charter member of the plumbers union, Henning rose to become the longtime head of the California Labor Federation before his retirement in 1996.

As the state's top labor advocate for more than a quarter-century, Henning gained legendary status as a fierce defender of workers and an avid foe of the perils of "capital" left unchecked.

"His commitment to global unionism and anti-racism were ahead of his time, and he never hid from a good fight," said Art Pulaski, who succeeded Henning as head of the labor federation.

U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis paid posthumous tribute to Henning's lifelong commitment to workers' struggles.

"Jack Henning was a champion, visionary and unwavering voice on behalf of the working women and men of the United States and the world," Solis said. "We are all indebted to his leadership, and he will be missed."

Henning was a close ally of Cesar Chavez, the late leader of the farm workers, and cited among his proudest accomplishments passage in 1975 of the landmark Agricultural Labor Relations Act, which gave new protections to field hands.

"Jack never wavered, whether it was standing . . . on the picket lines in the dusty fields and vineyards or in the halls of the state Capitol," said Arturo S. Rodriguez, president of the United Farm Workers.

In his farewell address from the federation in 1996, Henning dared conservatives to go to any major U.S. city "and see what capital has done to the poor . . . see the homeless, beggars at the table of wealth. . . . Let the defenders of the established order live with that moral outrage. Their day will come."[2]


Before taking the helm of the California Labor Federation, Henning had served as U.S. undersecretary of labor in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. Johnson also appointed him ambassador to New Zealand, a post that Henning relished, given his working-class origins.

Henning joined his first union not long after graduating with a degree in English literature from St. Mary's College, and steadily rose in the ranks of the state and national movement.

He also served 12 years as a regent of the University of California, where he fought for affirmative action and led a successful fight to have the university divest in apartheid South Africa.

At his farewell speech from the federation in 1996, Henning elicited thunderous applause with his closing words: "And if by a suspension of the laws of nature I were young again, I would follow no other course, no other flag but the flag of labor."[3]

South Africa benefit

On January 17 1986, a benefit concert was held at Oakland's Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center, for the National Emergency Fund of the South African Council of Churches.

Dinner Committee Members included Hon. Alan Cranston, Hon. Leo McCarthy, Hon. Barbara Boxer, Hon. Sala Burton, Hon. Ron Dellums (a DSA member), Hon. Don Edwards, Hon. Tom Lantos Hon. George Miller, Jr. Hon. Norman Mineta, Hon. Pete Stark, Hon. Willie Brown, plus Democratic Socialists of America members Julian Bond, Nancy Skinner, Harry Britt, John Henning, Adam Hochschild, Frances Moore Lappe, Stanley Sheinbaum, Communist Party USA affiliates Wilson Riles, Jr., Maudelle Shirek, Al Lannon, and Irving Sarnoff, and radical socialists Julianne Malveaux, Drummond Pike, John George, Peter Yarrow and actor/activist Sidney Poitier.[4]

DSA Labor commission meeting

Over 90 delegates and observers attended the Democratic Socialists of America National board in San Fransisco, November 9-11, 1990. A DSA Labor Commission meeting at the event brought local trade unionists and DSA members together on November 9. California AFL-CIO head Jack Henning attended the labor Commission event, as did ILWU President James Herman.[5]

DSA member

In 1992 Jack Henning was a member of Democratic Socialists of America. [6]

Honoring Cesar Chavez

There was a major march through the streets of San Francisco on March 24, 2002 to mark the 75th birthday of United Farm Workers founder Cesar Chavez. Parade Grand Marshalls included two UFW founders Dolores Huerta, and Cesar's brother Richard Chavez, as well as Rep. Nancy Pelosi.

At the march rally UFW Arturo Rodriguez spoke of the continuing legacy of Chavez.

Other speakers included;