Herman Benson waged a long, courageous, effective campaign against Old Age….He seemed on the verge of success; but at the age of ??, just before the final battle, he died. He began his political career in 1930 at the age of fifteen when he joined the Socialist Party’s youth section, the YPSL. In later years, he served as Workers Party organizer in Detroit and New York and as associate editor of its publication, Labor Action — benign activities which earned him an honored place on a secret government list of citizens who were to be peremptorily interned whenever the president proclaimed a national emergency. (By order of President Carter that list was abandoned and presumably destroyed.)
In 1933 at age seventeen, he was expelled from CCNY, along with some twenty others, for sponsoring a peaceful demonstration against ROTC. (In 1975 at the age of sixty, after learning that those with a college degree had higher lifetime earnings, he got a BA in labor relations from the Empire State College; it didn’t help.) After expulsion from CCNY, he went on to become a skilled toolmaker, working in shops in Detroit and New York. For eighteen years, from 1962-1980, he was retained by the American ORT Federation as machinery consultant, purchasing director, and contract administrator, mainly on U.S. government-financed programs.
Most of his work for AOF in those years was half-time and three-quarter-time. Simultaneously, beginning in 1958, he devoted the rest of his time to advancing the cause of union democracy, helping to found the Association for Union Democracy. That work gave a boost to democratic rights in the Painters union, the Machinists, the Steelworkers, the Teamsters, the Ironworkers, MMP, Marine Engineers, Laborers, IBEW, PEF, NYS Nurses, and other unions.
His wife, Revella, was a Rosie-the-Riveter, during WW II. Post-war she was on the staff of the United Teachers Federation in New York, a job she held until retirement. She was killed in a robbery in 1996. He and Revella created two children Their son, Larry Benson, now retired, fulfilled his dream of becoming a NYC firefighter and worked his way up to Deputy Chief, the highest civil service position. Daughter Ellen Benson is an unusually able and compassionate emergency room doctor. She helped her father outwit the vagaries of the profit-oriented U.S. health care industry.
In his last, dying words, Benson said, “This is the time for a donation to the Association for Union Democracy. Make it generous.”