Two Leaders Die - but Legacy Lives On

By Dine, Philip | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), April 11, 1997 | Go to article overview

Two Leaders Die - but Legacy Lives On


Dine, Philip, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


When the best traditions of minorities struggling for equal rights and of workers battling for decent job conditions merge, the result can be some of the most powerful messages this country offers.

The voice of Illinoisan Charlie Hayes rang loud and clear for six decades.

Though now stilled, it's as timely as ever, with labor and civil rights activists trying to rekindle an old alliance and so many young blacks seeking an economic footing.

Hayes, who died Tuesday at 79, was a force from the post- Depression factories of Southern Illinois to a congressional seat from Chicago in the 1980s.

Back in 1939, the young man in Cairo, Ill., was glad to have a job at a woodworking plant but wondered about the pay of $7.50 a week - and why black workers got menial jobs while whites ran the fancy machines.

Hayes took one-third of his pay, enlisted five colleagues and used the $15 to apply to the carpenters union. Soon Local 1424 was created, with Hayes as president.

But the firm refused to recognize the new union, so members struck for six weeks. Hayes was called to company headquarters in Memphis, Tenn. The first black to set foot in the office, he left with a 2- cent hourly raise for the workers and recognition for the union.

He moved to Chicago and its stockyards in 1943 and eventually was elected international vice president of the United Food and Commercial Workers union. He counseled Martin Luther King in the early civil rights days and provided crucial funding.

Hayes' labor backing helped make Harold Washington Chicago's first black mayor. That opened a House seat, and in 1983 Hayes became the first national union official elected to Congress. He served until 1992.

Twenty-five years ago, as he was co-founding the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, Hayes made a pivotal speech to black workers in St. Louis. Among the 300 listening was Lew Moye, then and now a Chrysler auto worker in Fenton. After Hayes spoke of removing the "shackles that are around our ankles" in the labor movement, Moye helped found CBTU's St. …

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