Sidney Lens: The Unrepentant Radical

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For Labor Day, we’re highlighting the work of labor chief, antiwar activist, and writer Sidney Lens, whose papers are archived at CHM. Ask about them in your subsequent go to to the Abakanowicz Analysis Middle.

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Staughton Lynd, Rev. James Bevel, Sidney Lens (second from left), and Richard Flacks of the Chicago Space Draft Resisters communicate at a press convention at 333 West North Ave., January 8, 1968. ST-60003475-0006, Chicago Solar-Instances assortment, CHM

Sidney Lens was born in 1912 in New Jersey to Charles and Sophie Okun, Russian Jewish immigrants who got here to the US in 1907. Lens’s father died when Lens was simply three years outdated, so he was raised by his mom, who labored in a garment manufacturing unit in Manhattan. Lens described his mom as an affect on his organizing and recalled her giving him an image of Rosa Luxemburg when he was younger.

Lens’s first effort at organizing employees occurred when he was simply a teen, working as a busboy at a resort in Saratoga Springs, New York. He organized the waiters and busboys to strike on July 3, however finally the resort was capable of pull in household and pals to attend tables of their place, and Lens was taken off the resort and roughed up by the county sheriff.

Undeterred by his first tried labor strike, Lens continued to empower and set up employees, notably within the Nineteen Thirties as New Deal laws was being handed in response to the Nice Melancholy. In 1937, he helped set up employees who made vehicle seat covers and sheet steel employees in Detroit.

Hillman’s Pure Meals, northwest nook of Devon and Artesian Streets, 1937; Chicago Architectural Photographing Firm. CHM, ICHi-061991

Making Chicago his base, Lens undertook organizing efforts amongst fellow employees on the Hillman’s grocery chain in 1941. He helped regroup employees whose unions had been underneath the Capone outfit (which was stealing their dues) into the United Grocery and Produce Workers Union, Native 329 of the Retail, Wholesale, and Division Retailer Union (CIO). Ultimately, Native 329 (recognized from 1946/47 because the United Service Workers Union) gained an election ordered by the Nationwide Labor Relations Board.

Within the subsequent few years, Lens widened his organizing efforts on behalf of Native 329 but in addition to hospital employees, dancers, language lecturers, and even the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He additionally served because the nationwide secretary of the American Discussion board for Socialist Training.

In 1946, Lens married Shirley Ruben, a Chicago public college trainer who grew to become recognized within the Fifties for refusing to take an anti-Communist loyalty oath. Within the early Fifties, the couple started a collection of travels, which finally took them to 101 international locations. These travels broadened Lens’s perspective and furthered a eager curiosity in worldwide affairs and antiwar activism.

Black and white button with images of rifle and helmet and the following text: OUT NOW.
Anti-war button owned by Sidney Lens, c. 1970. CHM, ICHi-040649 

Together with David Dellinger, Bayard Rustin, Roy Finch, A. J. Muste, and Glen Gardner, Lens was one of many founding editors of the pacifist journal Liberation (1956–77). Lens was additionally a prolific writer and wrote greater than twenty books, together with The Disaster of American Labor (1959) and The Forging of the American Empire (1971). He additionally contributed to The Progressive journal and was a contributing editor for the Nationwide Catholic Reporter. Through the Fifties, his scathing articles denouncing McCarthyism and the Chilly Conflict introduced him nationwide consideration.

In Chicago, Lens was among the many many to problem the actions of the Chicago Police Division’s Pink Squad, which spied on political actions of teams within the metropolis. In 1967, he recalled receiving a cellphone name from officers who advised him how that they had burglarized organizations within the metropolis, together with Ladies for Peace, Chicago Peace Council, Fellowship for Reconciliation, and College students for a Democratic Society. Lens tipped off the Day by day Information with the knowledge and was one, amongst others, who sued for dissolution of the Pink Squad.

Within the Nineteen Seventies and ’80s, Lens labored on behalf of nuclear disarmament, founding the group Mobilization for Survival. Lens spent greater than fifty years as an activist. It was solely sickness that stopped him. He died on June 18, 1986, at Chicago’s Bernard Mitchell Hospital from a recurrence of a malignant melanoma.

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