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From the January 2007 issue of the $100 Plus Club News #104
In Memoriam: Henry Zeiger, Former AUD staffer
Ex-NYC taxi driver, staunch workers advocate
We regret to inform our readership
that Henry Zeiger, former AUD staff person and coordinator of our Workers
Rights Project for several years, passed away late last year. The following
observations and remembrances are a testimonial to his dedication to AUD
and to workers rights in general.
Henry came to work for AUD in early 1995 at a difficult
moment in our history which has always been a kind of roller coaster business.
But this was an especially low point; and he came just when we needed
him. Our staff had just been totally decimated by success. The new Carey
administration had finally got rolling and it stole away all our people.
Selma Marks, who had run our Teamsters Fair Election Project was hired
away as a Teamster organizer. Eileen Sullivan, director of our Women's
Project, became assistant trustee for one Teamster local. And finally,
the coup de grace, Susan Jennik, then AUD executive director, got her
dream job as attorney for a reformed Teamster local. That left me all
alone as acting -- and reluctant--- executive director. Some months before
---perhaps as long before as a year and a half --- our old fashioned hot-type
linotype printer had given up, leaving us dependent upon the new-fangled
desktop, home cooking, newsletter publishing, which Susan could handle,
but not me.
Along comes Henry. We didn't have much money at the
time which hasn't changed that much since those days. He was already on
a fixed income and so he seemed perfectly happy to start working on a
minimal salary to supplement his social security. His job was amorphously
defined as office manager, a general factotum that included bookkeeper,
mailing list coordinator, counselor to clients. Anyone who knows Henry
can instantly assess how perfectly his personality corresponded to those
requirements. Above all, he was good at desktop publishing, which was
our most critical need at the time, and he did a wonderful job.
Henry was on the phone at long stretches consoling
the victims of injustices for whom, I must admit, we often had no solution.
But Henry found that inability hard to bear. He consoled himself, and
sometimes his caller, by vigorous unrestrained verbal denunciations of
the persecutors. On the other hand he was a fine writer, scrupulously
careful with the facts and restrained in characterizations. It was as
though writing transformed his explosive personality. As editor of Union
Democracy Review, I always felt comfortable with everything he wrote.
Whatever editing was advisable, and it was a minimum, he accepted graciously.
Organized organization was not his thing. He didn't
believe that anyone should have the authority to direct anyone else to
do anything, but rather that each should voluntarily do what had to be
done. It never bothered me, but others found it hard to adjust to.
Meanwhile, after Henry had been working for AUD for
some weeks, Carl Biers came to work as AUD Assistant Director, on the
way to becoming Executive Director. Carl, then in his 20s and unsubsidized
by Uncle Sam, had to earn at least a near-subsistence salary. Henry obviously
felt hurt by the difference in pay levels. But since funds were running
low, we compromised by agreeing to shorten his hours and lessen his responsibilities.
For the rest of his career with AUD, Henry ran a workshop for individual
complainants several times a week; when funds ran low he conducted sessions
by phone from his home in Hoboken. Some months later he retired.
Jane LaTour (former
AUD Women's Project Director):
New York City's labor movement lost a stalwart advocate
for working people towards the end of 2006. Henry Zeiger lived alone in
Hoboken and his death was discovered by his long-time friend and colleague,
Yvone Maitin. For many years, the two labored together on Saturdays at
the offices of the Association for Union Democracy, at the Workers Rights
Project for union members who were having problems and needed some assistance.
"Henry liked to tell me of his days as a taxi
driver," said Maitin, a member of Local 30, IUOE. "He had been
a shop steward and held some kind of office within the taxi drivers union.
This was an exciting time in his life and seemed to be dear to his heart.
He was a fierce fighter and fought hard for his co-workers."
Dozens of rank-and-file reformers from many different
unions had the opportunity to work with Henry as he lent his journalistic,
editorial, and computer skills to their efforts. Tom Moran, now retired
from Local 1-2 of the Utility Workers union, recalled that, "Henry
worked with us on the leaflets before we brought them to the printer.
He did an awful lot of volunteer work for groups in the labor movement
and he didn't make a dime off it. If he thought it was the righteous thing
to do, he did it."
"Henry Zeiger had the gravel in his guts to fight
the bosses, the corrupt union officials, and anyone else whom he saw hurting
workers. The same quality sometimes made it tough to work with him - bending
and compromising did not come easily to him," said Frank McMurray,
of Carpenters for a Stronger Union. "But I never had any doubt, even
in the midst of the most intense late night argument with him in the back
of some New York bar, that Henry's intentions were totally honest and
motivated by his sincere concern for workers," he said.
In addition to working on others' campaigns, Zeiger
had his own passionate causes that he championed. AUD Research Director
James McNamara pointed to the role Henry played in the attempt by Local
3 to sponsor a taxi union. Zeiger penned many articles and leaflets to
call attention to the atrocious conditions of taxi cab drivers and other
workers who labored under Third World conditions in New York City. "We
at AUD knew him as a dedicated and selfless person who was committed to
a strong, honest, and democratic labor movement," said McNamara.
"We will all miss him."
Former AUD staffer Andy Piascik
also worked closely with Zeiger. "He waged the fight against both
employers and the trade union bureaucracy. Selflessly, he remained in
the background," said Piascik. "I especially appreciated his
keen eye for detecting self-anointed 'leaders' and blowhards of all persuasions.
Were there more people like Henry, we would have the kind of workers movement
we need. It was my privilege to have worked with Henry and been his friend.
I'm going to miss him."
Robert Fitch, author of Solidarity
for Sale, worked with Henry on the New York Hard Hat News. "He lived
a life of principle," said Fitch. "He was as authentic and radical
as anyone could imagine. He said what he thought was right without fear
or favor. He didn't try for success or popularity, but he was a very talented
Yvone Maitin (Workers
Here is my memory of Henry. Henry was a tall man whose
hair stuck out in tufts from under his signature baseball cap; it also
came out of his nose. He had teeth that could scare a ghost. He wore his
pants high up on his waist and his shirt was often stained with what ever.
You could tell what he had had for breakfast just by looking at the stains
and crumbs. He didn't care. I would often bring a scone for him when we
worked together and he did something, that I'm sure he didn't realize
made me laugh to myself, Henry would wet the tip of his finger and dab
up every last morsel. He was a funny kind of curmudgeon to me.
His style made me laugh, not at him but in amusement.
I liked his I don't give a shit and straight shooing ways. I admired his
He once brought me a modest present, he lived on a
fixed income, a bag of poblano peppers. He told me, "Soak them before
you use them and use them sparingly. They're hot." They were indeed
hot and delicious. Henry loved Mexican food and was a good cook.
Henry was also a jazz aficionado and spoke fondly
of his days in bars drinking, listening to music with the fellas and women.
He was always respectful to me but those were his good old days. He once
made a copy of some of his music collection for me. Some of it is no longer
available now and political in nature.
He liked to tell me of his days as a taxi driver.
He had been a shop steward and held some kind of office within the taxi
drivers union. This was an exciting time in his life and seemed to be
dear to his heart. He fought hard on behalf of his co-workers and often
won what others might have turned away from. Henry was also a playwright,
having attended Yale Drama school and graduating from Kenyon College.
Several of his works have been published.
There is so much I can say about Henry. He was a great
story teller. The thing I can say the most about him is that he was a
lover of the working people, a fountain of knowledge and reference point
and a fierce fighter on our behalf. I helped Henry run AUD's Workers Rights
Project, and we had people coming from as far away as Pennsylvania to
get help on their problems. I believe that the project was one of AUD's
most successful endeavors.
A week before his death I had made a plan with him
to record his experiences and make a list, perhaps even a booklet of the
contacts and references he had in his head, for the purposes of sharing
it with other workers. He was very excited about this, but it was not
meant to be. Henry was a bit of a curmudgeon, but he also was a humble
man, and many will miss him. I surely will.
Your Job Your Rights
One of Henry's last projects
for AUD was the creation of an
introductory guide to the grievance procedure, intended for rank-and-file
members, especially new immigrants unfamiliar with US unions. The guide
was the product of a collaboration between the Workers Rights Project
and the Latino Workers Center and is now on our website where it is always
among the ten most popular items. The guide lacks Henry's distinctive
voice, but it distills some of his wisdom and puts it in the hands of
the people he most liked to help.
Give to AUD in Henry's memory
You can make a gift to AUD in memory of Henry Zeiger's
life and work. Find out how.
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