Gus Tyler: Forward Editor, Writer & Firebrand of Labor Movement, Dies at 99

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Source: NYT, 6-11-11

Gus Tyler could recite word for word the first firebrand speech he gave more than 80 years ago on a soapbox on the Lower East Side. That long-ago youth tingled with the revolutionary promise he saw on the teeming streets of New York, in the new Soviet Union, in the great books he devoured, in the endless nocturnal debates.

Gus Tyler in 1964.

He tumbled through life like a Saul Bellow character, full of analytic thought and urban vitality. He wore multifarious hats: pamphleteer, professor and poet, but insisted on defining himself with a single word: agitator.

He became one as a teenager, throwing burrs at police horses during socialist demonstrations. And as a leader of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union for decades, he helped shape labor’s contribution to the postwar welfare state. His most powerful weapons were words, in books, newspaper columns, radio commentaries and speeches he wrote for labor chieftains.

His intellectual output was diverse, but Mr. Tyler tended to come back to one theme: the importance of democracy in unions, and the importance of unions to democracies. He pushed for government-sponsored health care and was a leader in the fight to reapportion voting districts so that cities were better represented.

A. H. Raskin, the labor expert who was a reporter for The New York Times, called Mr. Tyler one of the true intellectuals of the trade union movement. The historian Bernard Bellush wrote, “There are those who say that the history of the democratic left in America since World War I is the history of Gus Tyler.”

Mr. Tyler died on June 3 in Sarasota, Fla., at the age of 99, his nephew Jonathan Tilove said — 21 years shy of his goal of outliving Moses.

But he did see a promised land of sorts: his first job was at The Jewish Daily Forward when it was a big-circulation, left-leaning Yiddish daily. He threw himself into the 1930s brawls of Stalinists, Trotskyists and all manner of leftists before fighting some of the same people in the 1940s to kick Communists out of liberal veterans’ groups….READ MORE

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