By Matthew Rothschild | The Progressive | April 7, 2012

Harry reciting his poem at the Labor Notes conference May 2006

I’d like you to meet a great labor activist.

His name is Harry Kelber. He’s 97. "I’ll be 98 in June," he tells me.

Harry Kelber’s parents came over from Russia. "They didn’t speak much English," he said. In fact, he ended up teaching them.

When he was nineteen, he organized his first union at a Brooklyn food market.

In his twenties, he edited weekly labor newspapers and rallied support for the CIO.

He continued to work as a labor editor and printer, and played a big part in the New York City newspaper strike in the 1960s.

When he was 46, he "decided to get a college education," as he puts it. He graduated summa cum laude from Brooklyn College and then went on to get a master’s and Ph.D from NYU. He used his degrees to help establish the field of labor studies in the academy.

His wife, Mim, was also an activist. She was a victim of McCarthyism, he told me, but she kept on going and ended up writing speeches for Bella Abzug. After more than 50 years of marriage, Mim died in 2004.

Kelber managed to persevere. You can get a sense of his spirit in this short YouTube video.

He’s dedicated much of his work over the past few decades to the cause of democratizing the AFL-CIO. And for the last five years, he’s been writing three columns a week for laboreducator.org.

"I can’t stop," he says. "I still have a mission: My mission is to end the corruption in the AFL and establish free elections and members’ rights.

That’s what I do."

We need more people like Harry Kelber.

Harry on Facebook
Publications