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My Grandfather, My Hero
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by Caitlin H
In 1934 while going to school at City College, he was in a demonstration, protesting fascists having been invited to speak at the school. He and twenty others were expelled, interrupting his plan to become a lawyer. This story was on the front page of the New York Times on November 14, 1934*. The next year a judge said that the students should be allowed back to the school, but by then he was already married and had begun working as a union organizer. He wound up never returning to college.
The rise of fascism deeply disturbed my grandfather. In 1937, a Spanish Colonel named Francisco Franco was leading a rebellion to overthrow the Spanish government. He had the support of Hitler and Mussolini, the leaders of Germany and Italy. This was before World War II. The United States took an isolationist position, meaning they didn't want to get involved in Europe's affairs. There was an International Brigade being formed to help Spain fight the fascists and their allies. My grandfather raised money to help the Spanish government and helped recruit volunteers to join the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, which was the name for the American volunteers. My grandfather did not go because he and my grandmother just had had their first child. Instead he decided to stay and continue working as a union organizer.
In the 1930's working conditions for many were far from perfect; low wages, long hours, unsafe working conditions, no healthcare or pensions, and often-abusive employers was common. A union is an organized association of workers formed to protect and further their rights and interests. There was a strong anti-union sentiment in many areas of the country at the time. Union organizers had to be careful about how they approached workers to organize. Often the workers themselves approached them. This is what brought my grandparents to Stamford, Connecticut in 1939. My grandfather was asked by a few employees at an optical company to help unionize a factory of about 100 workers that had a particularly difficult boss. Working conditions were terrible. The employer hired some men who threatened my grandfather and some workers with violence, if they continued their efforts to organize the union. It took more than a year for them to successfully unionize the company. What made this courageous is the fact that it could be very dangerous to try to organize labor unions in the 1930s and there were numerous threats, intimidations, and often violence.
My grandfather's goal was to unionize these workers, so that they could have better working conditions to better their lives. For years my grandfather received cards and letters thanking him for all of his help in forming their union.
I have recently learned about two people, Harriet Tubman and Chiune Sugihara, who risked their lives to stand up for what they believed was right. My grandfather is my hero because he was never afraid to do and say what he believed was right, no matter the cost.