Clem Balanoff

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Clem Balanoff


Clem Balanoff, Jr. (born 1953) is an Illinois activist and politician. He is a nephew of Tom Balanoff.

"Who Asked You" Election Advertisement

In April 1968, Clem Balanoff signed an Advertisement in the Hyde Park-Kenwood Voices as a committee member of an as yet un-named organization led by Ruth Adams, Timuel Black, Rev. E. Spencer Parsons, Al Verri and Rabbi Jacob Weinstein asking the question, "What can you do to get a real choice for president in 1968?"[1]

Supporting communist led steelworkers

The Wisconsin Steel Save Our Jobs Committee was active for 17 years, from 1980 to 1997. How was leader, and Communist Party USA member Frank Lumpkin able to keep SOJ together for so many years?

There were favorable factors that helped. First, Chicago is a union town; the United Steelworkers gave SOJ a home. The Wisconsin Steel workers also had the support of progressive public officials. These included Congressman, and later Mayor, Harold Washington; State Representative, and later U.S. Senator, Carol Moseley Braun; Congressman Gus Savage; State Senator Richard Newhouse; and State Representative Miriam Balanoff, followed by Clem Balanoff Consumer organizations such as Illinois Public Action, and later, Citizen Action of Illinois gave important support. The leftist labor monthly, Labor Today, and its editors Fred Gaboury and Scott Marshall, gave SOJ national coverage.[2]

Steelworker struggles

Paul Kaczocha was barely 21 when I first met Ed Sadlowski. Al Samter, a U.S. Steel coke oven worker with a long history of struggle in the mill and the union, asked me if he could bring Ed over to talk to me about his campaign to run for director of District 31 of the Steelworkers. The district which covered the Gary-Chicago area, District 31, was the largest.

Al was a veteran of union struggles. He was a former Bronx New Yorker who, as a young newlywed communist, had moved to Gary in 1949 to be a union activist.

Al brought Ed, 12 years my senior, to my apartment in Gary one summer evening. I remember thinking that Ed, who at the time was an overweight staff representative for the union, was the stereotypic fat cat union rep. However, he talked the talk of trying to change the union and take out the same people who had run the district for the 30 years since the union’s inception.

I was spellbound as Ed’s rap touched a nerve in me. I was a young new union representative at a shop full of young people at a plant that was the newest built basic steel mill in the U.S. – Bethlehem Steel’s Burns Harbor, Indiana plant. It remains the last basic steel mill built in the U.S. making steel with coke ovens and blast furnaces and finishing it in rolling mills.

Like Ed’s father, my grandfather helped build the union. He had been a staff representative for the same district that Ed was trying to lead. My grandfather warned me to stay away from Ed because, he said, he hung out with communists. Ed convinced me to join the cause of changing the union by taking it over. “You CAN beat City Hall,” he was fond of saying.

Like me, hundreds of steelworkers became convinced that change was possible. We went into action around the district to organize for the Sadlowski campaign, a movement which became bigger than Ed himself.

Organizing for the February 1973 election was fast and furious. It was done out of South Chicago at a campaign office down the street from the U.S. Steel Local 65 hall where Ed was once the president and where he got his nickname “Oil-Can Eddie.” It was a hall that was named after Hilding Anderson, a 29-year-old known as a red in some circles. Hilding Anderson, along with nine others, was killed by the police at the 1937 Memorial Day Massacre.

My local was one of the first to nominate Ed to get him on the ballot, and the local’s election vote also went for him. However, the election was fraught with corruption. Ed was declared the loser by a narrow margin. He immediately filed a federal law suit which was settled with a federally supervised election held in November 1974.

Organizing continued after the loss in ’73. The momentum built by all the new people energized by the first campaign made for a landslide win in the rematch between the “official” candidate, Sam Evett, and Ed. Leading this organizing, as in the first match, were Jim Balanoff from Inland Steel’s Local 1010, Jim’s brother Clem Balanoff, Ola Kennedy, Curtis Strong, one of the first African Americans appointed to the USWA staff, Cliff Mezo, also from 1010, a fresh young Pennsylvania attorney, George Terrell, and an assortment of old and young union activists, men and women, Black and Brown.

Rank and file caucuses eventually sprung up in local unions across District 31 which spanned metropolitan Chicago through Indiana, from Hammond, East Chicago and Gary to South Bend. A compilation of many of those local organizations was even formed later on, called the Indiana Steelworkers Caucus.

Immediately after Ed was elected director, the campaign for the 1977 USWA international president began. The rank-and-file energy of the district campaign, “Steelworkers Fightback,” spread across the U.S. and Canada. The national campaign brought in old union activists like George Edwards from Cleveland and young ones too, like Bruce Bostick at U.S. Steel in Lorain, Ohio.

Based on the movement, the 1976 local union elections brought many new faces to the union leadership, like Bill Andrews and Mike Olszanski at Local 1010, including my election for Local 6787 president. Ed had been convinced by George Troy, who became financial secretary of our local, and me one night in Chicago to give a written endorsement of our slate in that election. Those new leaders and the rebel old ones went to the convention in Las Vegas to try and change the union. A lot of hell was raised on the convention floor in Las Vegas from locals across the country. The stage was set for the January election the following year.

Sensing this surge of opposition and responding to the pressure, the “Official Family” added another vice president position to the Board which they filled with Leon Lynch, an African American union representative who had originated in District 31.

Campaigning by Ed took on a scope larger than running for president of the U.S., since the Union spanned not only coast to coast but also Canada. But the election was lost. Many involved in the campaign felt it was stolen in Canada.

The narrow loss of “Steelworkers Fightback” did not stop the push for reform in the union. Women such as Roberta Wood and Alice Peurala, both of Local 65, became more involved and formed an active Women’s Caucus. Alice was elected president of Local 65, the first woman to head a basic steel local. Eventually, the right to vote on the contract was won and women were elected to international offices of authority. The Steelworkers Union was 1.5 million strong at the time of the Sadlowski presidential bid.[3]

Progressive Chicago

A Progressive Chicago report to Keith Kelleher, dated October 27, 1993 listed several more contacts and potential members of the organization.

It stated that Alderman Joe Moore had agreed to participate and that State senator Alice Palmer was interested and was awaiting a call from Peter McClennon.

Members had been allocated people to contact;

Others targeted for contact, but not assigned, included Clem Balanoff, Sue Purrington of NOW, Jane Ramsey at JCUA, Erlean Collins, Westside Black elected officials and PUSH, TWO and Joe Gardner's Project Hope.[4]

Friends of Alice Palmer

Mid 1990s Hon. Clem Balanoff was listed as a member of Friends of Alice Palmer (in formation), alongside Danny K Davis, Tony Rezko, Timuel Black and Barack Obama.[5]

DSA support in 1996

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In 1996 Democratic Socialists of America sent six staff members into the field for the final weeks of the campaign. These staff and DSA volunteers "contributed to the re-election of Senator Paul Wellstone, Congressperson Maurice Hinchey (D-upstate NY) and aided in the narrow victory of pro-labor John Tierney (D-MA) over "moderate" Republican Pete Torkildsen in Massachusetts. DSA also contributed to the near-upset victories of first-time Democratic challengers Joe Hoeffel in suburban Philadelphia and Clem Balanoff on the Chicago South Side and southwestern suburbs.

According to DSA member Michael Heffron;[6]

Altogether, the district spans a large area of Illinois that ranges from city to suburb to farmland. It was in that six percent that is Chicago-proper where I and a few other DSA volunteers concentrated our work to try to elect Clem Balanoff, a progressive Democrat, to Congress.
As I joined the campaign in late October, Balanoff was down by about 20 points. The gap narrowed as the election approached. Despite being redbaited (partly because of DSA's involvement, but more viciously because Clem's uncle had run for alderman as a Communist back in the 40's), and hippie-baited (due to his spending time in California in the 1980's, ind registering with the Peace and Freedom Party there), Clem slowly began to gain ground, and was only fight points down three days before the election. However, Balanoff was being outspent by two-to-one, so it was the volunteers who played the most crucial role...

In such a race, union support is vital, and Clem received endorsements from every major labor organization in his district. Many of the volunteers 1 worked with were from unions such as the Teamsters for a Democratic Union or SEIU.
Our campaigning continued right up until 7:00 pm election night, when the polls closed and results began to trickle in. What was looking like a shocking upset, with the first 50 percent of precincts reporting Clem ahead by 10 points, slowly slipped away, with Weller catching up and finally surpassing Clem late into the night. Weller, given the run of his life, won by only about 7,000 votes (52 percent to 48 percent).

DSA endorsement

In July 1996, the Democratic Socialists of America Political Action Committee endorsed Clem Balanoff, running in, Illinois 11 in that year's Congressional elections.[7]

DSA forum

About 75 people gathered at the Lodge Hall of Local 1487 of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers in DesPlaines, on April 5 1997 to listen to speakers and to be entertained by musical groups. The event was sponsored by Democratic Socialists of America, Citizen Action of Illinois, Campaign for Health Care and Nation Associates. DSA's Steve De La Rosa helped organize the event.

Speakers included Clem Balanoff, addressing Campaign Finance Reform and its implications for raising prices of products whose owners contribute to political campaigns. Maureen Kelleher of Dollars & Democracy described an effort of Roman Catholics and Friends (Quakers) to work for one person one vote legislation.[8]

Labor for Our Revolution leaders

Labor for Our Revolution April 6;

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More than 50 union leaders participated in the Labor for Our Revolution national meeting in Chicago. — with Clem Balanoff, Gene Bruskin, Matthew Graham, David W. Campbell, David Duhalde, Peter Hart, Tony Flora, Brenda Bosworth Rodrigues, Carey Dall, Penelope Jennewein, Joe Lawrence, Gene Elk, Dana Simon, Mark Dudzic, Kenneth Zinn, Zachary Pattin, Mike Parker, Kyle Machado, Peter Knowlton, Donna DeWitt, Brian Skiffington, Peter Olney, Jared Hicks, Marcelle Grair, Steve Early, Al Cholger and Erin McKee.

References

  1. Hyde Park-Kenwood Voices, April 1968
  2. Joy in the Struggle, Bea Lumpkin, page 209]
  3. https://www.peoplesworld.org/article/ed-sadlowski-remembrance-of-a-life-even-bigger-than-the-man/PW NEWS Ed Sadlowski – Remembrance of a life even bigger than the manAugust 7, 2018 10:10 AM CDT BY PAUL KACZOCHA]
  4. Progressive chicago report to K Kelleher October 27, 1993
  5. Undated Friends of Alice Palmer membership list. Harold Washington papers
  6. [Dem. Left, Nov./Dec. 1996]
  7. Democratic Left, July/August 1996, page 21
  8. http://www.chicagodsa.org/ngarchive/ng52.html