The working class and people lost a great leader, activist, fighter for justice and equality this past week when 94 year old GEORGE EDWARDS died. While his accomplishments were many, significant and will have positive influence on our lives for generations, what those who knew George will remember most was his all abiding humanity. While a lifelong champion of worker’s rights, civil rights and peace, George was as at home with a beer watching the game, gardening, hiking, camping or visiting friends as he was at a meeting of his beloved steelworker unionists.

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 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 Lorain 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.

Denise Winebrenner-Edwards, George’s wife of 31 years stated that; “He was absolutely convinced that the only way working people could achieve justice was for the people, not the wealthy, to control our economy. He saw that inherent in capitalism was inequality and injustice and that the system needed changed fundamentally to meet the people’s needs!”

After winning unionization in 1942, George founded the local union newspaper, the Lorain Labor Leader, founded a Veteran’s Committee was part of the Political Action Committee. He was elected USWA, local 1104’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. McCathyism was rearing its ugly head and the nation was moving to the right. Still, George was elected to the 1948 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 50’s 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 founder’s 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. His metal chess sets are highly valued. Some are on display, as gifts in presidential offices in Vietnam and other nations.

Even in these hard times, George still found ways to fight for justice. Seeing Puerto Rican workers brought in to work at the mill housed in railroad cars on company property, without running water, heat or sanitary facilities, he invited leaders of the Puerto Rican Independence movement to Lorain to help workers understand what rights they had and to push for decent housing. When African American steelworkers were unable to buy homes in still-segregated areas, George purchased homes which he resold to those workers. As the civil rights, peace movements developed, George jumped on board.

It was in the 70’s,however, in his 50’s, that George really began to put his stamp on policy changes that would shift political ground in the labor movement. 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 (NSWRFC). NSWRFC pushed for democracy, membership involvement and solidarity in the USWA. He literally ran the budding rank & 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 Lorain committee came about not because George made great speeches, but grew out of what will forever be known as the “Pink Hard Hat” incident. By now, George was a machinist instructor, teaching young apprentices the trade. But the shop foreman was making life hell for the young workers, harassing them numerous ways, including forcing them to shave beards, cut their hair short (a big deal for those guys in those days). George painted his hard hat pink, stating that it looked like “the bosses bald head.” He was suspended for his protest, but the union, especially the young workers rallied to his side and he won his grievance and backpay.

This was during a time that the mainstream media trumpeted the “generation gap,” that only young folks were progressive and that if you were older, you couldn’t possibly relate to young people. Throughout his life, and especially during this period, George showed this concept up for the lie it was. He was beloved by the younger workers and he fought for them.

An important principle of the Rank & File Movement that George often spoke of during this period was; “We have no enemies that are workers. We are fighting for all workers. We need a rank & file movement always, to involve regular workers in the union. It needs to support union leaders when they’re right and push them when they aren’t!”

The Rank & File Movement that George began expanded and won many gains during this period. The right of workers to ratify their own contracts was won, as well as the election of a new African American Vice President. The movement fought against an experimental negotiating agreement that would’ve ended the union’s ability to strike. The Consent Decree, which ended practices of keeping minority workers in worst, most dangerous and low paid jobs, opened up all jobs to bidding and brought women and minorities into the trades, was a major victory of the movement. This agreement came about because of struggles by African American workers and the rank & file movement, but created new opportunities to bid for jobs for all workers. They all had George Edward’s prints on them.

The USW began to shift, becoming the progressive union it is today, mobilizing its members, building coalitions, standing up for solidarity with other workers, unions, across the globe, as the rank & file movement pushed for these changes.

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

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, more access for the community to local government.

George was especially proud of the fact that he was “the first one arrested” for sitting in, blocking trucks carrying copies of the Pittsburgh Press, when workers there were on strike. The strike was successful, especially due to the massive solidarity movement that George was so proud to be part of!

Even into his 90’s George Edwards was active, mobilizing steel retirees to rallies for health care, retiree security, peace and for union representation. When Occupy Pittsburgh held demonstrations and news conferences this past year, George was out front, attending and bringing friends.

Finally, in his final years, George got something he’d never asked for; credit for his work! He used to say that “It’s amazing what you can get accomplished if you don’t care who gets credit!”

At the 70th anniversary of the United Steelworkers Union (USW) in Cleveland last year, he was honored with a long, and very loud, standing ovation. He was recognized for his work and as the only one present who was at the founding USW convention as well as the present one.

George had just returned from a USW Civil Rights Conference in Cincinnati when he fell into a coma. At that conference, USW President Leo Gerard had honored George, stating that; “He was an activist every single day of his life!” The comments were occasion for another long standing ovation, which brought tears to many eyes, including George’s.

George died peacefully! He didn’t live that way!

He is survived by his wife, Denise, a son, daughter and three sisters.

Denise has asked that those wishing to send flowers to, instead, send donations to (1) S.O.A.R., or (2) Next Generation (USW organization for young workers). Both of which can go to;

USW—Attn. Sec’r./Treasurer
60 Blvd. of the Allies
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15222
Donations may also be made, in George’s name, to

(3) People’s World,
235 W. 23rd St.
New York, New York 10011

Jim Centner, National President of SOAR, probably said it best when he said the best way to honor George is to; “Live life like George, be an activist every day!”