CLEM RICHARDSON | DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER | Thursday, October 09, 2008
It took me most of a morning to figure out what to write about Harry Kelber.
I couldn’t figure out where to start.
Even just listing the highlights of the highlights of Kelber’s career could run to book length.
Let’s start here: Kelber, 94, has been a labor organizer and activist for more than 70 years. During that time he:
Was active in the 1962-1963 strike that shut down daily newspapers in New York City for 114 days.
Created and was the first director of Cornell University’s two-year labor/liberal arts program.
Ran, at age 81, for the vice president’s seat on the AFL-CIO Executive Council because he was fed up with union politics.
Earned a bachelor’s degree from Brooklyn College and master’s and doctorate degrees from New York University in five and a half years.
Held a week-long seminar in Moscow – at the government’s invitation – in 1992 on "Democratic unions in a market economy" the year after the
Soviet Union ended Communist rule. It was attended by 145 Soviet labor leaders. While there, Kelber was featured on the front page of a labor newspaper with a circulation of 8 million copies.
Invented a poetry form he calls Septads – eight lines of iambic pentameter verse – and listens to a 60-audio tape series on philosophy each night before going to bed.
Still writes two labor columns a week for the Labor Educator Web site (www.laboreducator.com) and produces a series of recruiting booklets for labor movements.
Is planning to run for AFL-CIO vice president again next year.
"But I will make this pledge," Kelber said with a grin as he stood in the Brooklyn Heights apartment he has lived in for 40 years. "If elected, I will not run for another term!"
Thanks to his seven grandchildren, who he said are always asking him what he does, Kelber has written his memoirs, "My 70 Years In The Labor Movement" (Labor Educator Press, 2008).
The book follows Kelber from his birth in an 11th St. tenement on Manhattan’s lower East Side to his speech at the 1995 AFL-CIO convention and beyond.
Like Kelber, the book is extremely critical of modern labor leaders, who he says have let the union movement die around them.
"The labor movement is in serious trouble," he said. "There is corruption up and down the line. For example, the official leadership [of the AFL-CIO] was elected and reelected four times unanimously at a time when the union membership was declining, when unions were getting weak in collective bargaining and making concessions.