2018 Union Hall of Honor
A broad mind and an open heart, not to mention a dose of good humor, are rare ingredients in any human being. To see beyond the immediate, to see possibility, but to also have the common sense and engaged mind to make dreams become real is even rarer. Paul Booth exemplified these many qualities.
Bridging the 1960s anti-war movement to a life-time commitment to labor and a better world for all, Paul never lost his passion and hopeful spirit, no matter how discouraging the political twists and turns.
Born in Washington, D.C., Paul organized an early Students for a Democratic Society chapter at Swarthmore College. He participated in drafting the famous 1962 SDS Port Huron Statement, a broad vision of social change, linking the passion young people found in the Civil Rights movement with needs for political reform. As the Vietnam War escalated, he organized one of the first national demonstrations in 1965. While participating in a 1965 sit-in against the draft, he met University of Chicago student Heather Tobias. Three days into their Administration Building vigil, he asked Heather to marry him. She later formed the Midwest Academy, a training center for social justice organizers. Paul was a board member. The two became life partners, not only building a family, but becoming movement powerhouses.
In addition to Heather, his wife of 50 years, survivors include two sons, Gene Booth of Chicago and Dan Booth of Concord, Mass., named for the socialist leaders Eugene V. Debs and Daniel De Leon, respectively; a brother; and five grandchildren.
In Chicago he worked with the United Packinghouse Workers, where Illinois Labor History Society founder Les Orear edited publications. In 1974 he joined AFSCME Council 31, eventually rising to chief assistant to AFSCME Presidents Gerald McEntee and an executive assistant to current AFSCME President Lee Saunders. Paul connected with AFSCME Illinois just as public employee organizing was beginning its crescendo.
Leading up to the 1982 Illinois Public Employee Labor Relations Act, Paul helped build the strategy, the messages and the outreach that laid the groundwork for Illinois public employees to emerge as full citizens through union organization. This not only empowered workers, it also reshaped Illinois’ politics and its labor movement.
Today’s political landscape is mired in single-issue politics. Early on, Paul criticized the student left for their focus on the Vietnam War, reminding them that change would come with a broader vision that embraced worker, environmental, women’s, racial and multiple other concerns, connecting human needs with direct political action. Paul helped launch a national movement when he built a Baltimore coalition, resulting in the nation’s first living wage law in 1994. He continually pushed within the Democratic Party to embrace broader issues. In 2016 he helped write the Democratic Party platform, endorsing a $15 national minimum wage.
1960s scholar and activist Todd Gitlin summarized Paul’s gifts and contributions well in Dissent last January:
Paul added wryness to earnestness and stirred well. He made arguments but not enemies. Not everyone has his personality gifts, which are really gifts of character – the ability to persevere, to respect adversaries, to infuse the common enterprise with a spirit of overcoming. But everyone who feels and thinks can aspire to the clarity of his thinking about how, finding ourselves here, we can get there. He has left us, in his body, but he has left us his vivid example.
Katie Jordan was born in Mineral Springs, Arkansas in 1928, moving as a teen to Hot Springs where she finished high school. She has been a lifelong worker; her first ‘real’ job was as an elevator operator and she then became a therapeutic specialist in the town’s famous mineral bath houses. She subsequently studied tailoring and, when she came north to Chicago in the early ‘60’s, worked as a finisher in the Lytton Clothing Store’s non-union women’s department. She accepted that position, intending to work until Christmas to buy presents. The boss told her “that was all that was available.” At that time, only the men’s department was union and Katie, coming from a southern resort town, knew very little about unions. She did, however, know injustice and discrimination when she saw it. She quickly became a spokesperson for her co-workers and fought a victorious fight for seniority rights and correct pay for the women workers in that department.
Lytton refused to hire or promote African American women to the top paying fitter-tailor positions. With a strong tailoring skill and an even stronger sense of justice, after three years she became one of the first African American women fitter-tailors in the company, helping to open the door for African American sales associates, supervisors, and managers. In March of 1966, the department became a part of the collective bargaining unit with the men’s department. Katie was elected the first African American shop steward for the combined departments. Under her leadership, working conditions improved and, what had started as a temporary holiday job became a 23-year career. She later moved to another employer where she continued her union activism and leadership. She has been a member of the merged Amalgamated Clothing Workers, now, Workers United for over 50 years. She has been a shop steward, local secretary, vice-president and was the first woman and African American to be elected president of her local. Katie served on the negotiating team for every contract. The local’s contract contained a clause the members called a KATIE clause that called for on-the-job-training for employees for promotions before any outside hiring could be implemented, giving people of color an opportunity for promotions. Additionally, she was one of the first two African Americans to serve on the Board of Directors of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union, Chicago Joint Board, later the Central States Joint Executive Board and has also served as a delegate to the Chicago Federation of Labor.
Katie is a proud graduate of the Roosevelt University Labor Studies program and was the only woman student in a class of 33 union brothers. She also studied at the AFL-CIO Midwest Women’s School and at the Regina Polk School Women’s Leadership School. She now lends her skills and serves to the Polk Board of Directors.
Although retired from her job as fitter-tailor since 1995, she is certainly not retired from the labor movement. Officially Katie is President of Chicago CLUW, a member of their National Executive Board, President/Coordinator for Workers United/SEIU International Retirees Association and Represent the Retirees on W.U. General Executive Board. She is a Board Member and Treasurer of the Illinois Alliance for Retired Americans and on the Board of the Illinois Labor History Society and the Working Women’s History Project. Additional titles include the Policy Council of Citizen Action/Illinois, steering committee of Jobs with Justice, delegate to the Illinois AFL-CIO. and National U.S. Labor Against the War (USLAW) Steering Committee. She is also active in the Chicago Chapter of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU) and is a member of the A. Phillip Randolph Institute (APRI)
As a tireless fighter against discrimination and for justice in the workplace and society, Katie has been a role-model and inspiration to many women, encouraging them to play an active role in their unions and in struggles for a better world.