Association for Union Democracy

In Memoriam: Harry Kelber

Harry Kelber, who died in March at 98, spent a lifetime as union printer, labor journalist, publisher of his own weekly tabloid in the thirties, Communications Workers member, and labor educator. By the late 1980s you might define him as energetically and idealistically identified with the labor establishment. By then he was on the staff of IBEW Local 3. At that point, apparently specially inspired, he wrote and circulated a pamphlet charging that the AFL-CIO was bureaucratically structured and was neglecting its organizing responsibilities. That act lost him his Local 3 job, but it plunged him into a new career as a thundering labor prophet.

He began publishing his own newsletter, circulated many pamphlets, some amplifying his criticism of the AFL-CIO. Other pamphlets advised locals how to improve their organizing, their political action work, and their grievance handling; these were bought by the thousands by union locals. At the 1995 AFL-CIO convention, Kelber got himself nominated for an AFL-CIO vice president position. John Sweeney and Tom Donahue each got close to 2,000,000 votes in their contest for president. Harry got fewer than two dozen for vice president, but at last he had forced a contested and recorded vote for vice president.

He was also a self-published poet. In one of “Seventy-Seven Septads,” he wrote:

Live to be remembered.

Prepare the notes for your legacy.

Scream into the world’s ear: “Don’t forget me! I was here!”

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