George Edwards

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George Edwards


George Edwards was married to Denise Winebrenner Edwards. He died in 2012, age 94.

Activist life

Born in 1918 in South Dakota, his family moved to Tennessee and homesteaded land in what is now the Great Smoky National Park. His father worked in the Indian Service until becoming frustrated with mistreatment of native peoples.

George obtained a bachelor's degree from the University of Tennessee, then received his graduate degree from Oberlin Seminary, studying to enter the ministry. After completing his studies, George went to work as a machinist at the huge U. S. Steel Works in nearby Lorain, Ohio, making less than $1 an hour. His goal was to set up a "labor church."

However, he quickly joined the Steelworker's Organizing Committee, which was campaigning to organize that mill, and joined the Communist Party USA, along with many of the other organizers. He was active as a member/leader for the rest of his life.

After winning unionization in 1942, George founded the local union newspaper, the Lorain Labor Leader, founded a veteran's committee, and was part of the local's Political Action Committee. He was elected the local's vice president.

When America entered World War II, George immediately joined up, fighting to defeat the fascist menace in Europe.

After victory, he came back, but to a much different political climate. McCarthyism was rearing its ugly head. Still, George was elected to the 1948 United Steelworkers of America (USWA) convention, where he raised the first resolution calling for an African American vice president of the union. Although this wasn't won at that convention, George was a leading part of the movement that achieved that goal at the USWA convention nearly 40 years later.

For George, the 1950s were difficult times. Hounded by the FBI, spied on, and ostracized at the union he helped found, his name was even chiseled off of the founders' plaque at the union hall. He suffered isolation and tough times, even going through a divorce.

However, George used this time to become a photographer, setting up a studio in Lorain, became involved in hiking, camping, and became a serious artist, painting and producing metal sculptures.

In the '70's, George really began to put his stamp on policy changes that would shift political ground for all of us. Seeing a lack of democracy, a slackening of the fight against the big corporations, in the USWA, George formed the National Steelworkers Rank & File Committee. It pushed for democracy, membership involvement and solidarity. He literally ran the budding rank and file movement from an old mimeograph machine in his front room, almost permanently having blue-stained fingers. Local committees were formed in Steelworker locals across the nation, mainly made up of younger workers.

The Steelworkers union began to shift, becoming the progressive union it is today, mobilizing its members, building coalitions, standing up for solidarity with other workers and unions across the globe.

After retiring, George married Denise Winebrenner Edwards and moved to Pittsburgh. Winebrenner, a USW activist in her own right, was elected to the Wilkinsburg City Council.

Hardly ready to relax and enjoy "golden years," George spoke of these as "the best years of my life." He was a founding member of the Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees (SOAR) and was a member of SOAR's ruling executive board. With his wife Denise, they formed a local coalition, Wilkinsburg for Change, which stopped privatization of the local elementary school and pushed for better services and more access for the community to local government.[1]

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.[2]

Supported Communist Party call

In May 1992 the Communist Party USA newspaper Peoples Weekly World published a May Day supplement which included a call to "support our continuing struggle for justice and dignity"

Endorsers of the call included George Edwards, USWA.[3]

Communist Party's May Day Salute

In 1995 the Communist Party USA newspaper People's Weekly World, published a "May Day salute" to the "heroes in the class war zone". More than 100 unionists/activists endorsed the call, mostly known affiliates, or members of the Communist Party.

George Edwards SOAR, Pittsburgh, was one of those listed[4].

Endorsed Communist Party Call

On March 30 2002 the Communist Party USA paper People’s Weekly World called for a national holiday in honor of late Farm Workers Union leader Cesar Chavez. The article was followed by a long list of endorsers[5]including George Edwards, Almost all endorsers were confirmed members of the Communist Party USA.

Communist Party USA

In September 2006 the Peoples Weekly World listed several members, or supporters of the Pennsylvania Communist Party:[6]

Asad Ali, Billie Penn Johnson, Denise Winebrenner Edwards, Donna Puleio Spadaro Dr A S Mahdi Ibn-Ziyad, Gary Puleio (In Memoriam), George Edwards, Joe Kopnitsky, Ken Heard, Ben Sears, Dave Bell, Debbie Bell, Diane Mohney & John Vago, Evie Horwitz & Larry Horwitz , Frances Gabow, The Incognito Family, James Bradford, Jimmie Wayne Moore, June Krebs, Leonard Pepper, Rookie Perna, Rosita Johnson, Sharon Hurley.

References