Norm Roth, 94, union activist, fought injustice

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Norman Roth, 94, formerly of Oak Park, died peacefully in his sleep in California on Feb. 22, 2011. Born in 1917 on Chicago's West Side, his support for the labor movement began early — at 14, he picketed in support of striking teachers. A few years later he had to drop out of John Marshall High School and take a factory job — $6,000 a year, 60 hours a week. A year later he was lucky, landing a union job as an elevator operator for $24 a week.

In 1939, he attended a Communist Party Workers School. He joined the party after completing courses in labor history and revolutionary philosophy. He joined the Elevator Operators Local 66 and was part of a struggle to replace its corrupt leadership. While a leader of this rank-and-file movement, he led struggles against Jim Crow lynching, the racist poll tax and fascism.

In 1942, Mr. Roth went to work for Douglas Aircraft and participated in the organization of United Auto Workers Local 201, of which he became an elected leader. He was drafted into the U.S. Army in July of 1945, at the close of World War II.

After his discharge, he found work at the International Harvester Company's Melrose Park Tractor Plant. Serving as a shop steward in UAW Local 6, one of the larger UAW locals in Illinois, he was elected to the Local 6 executive board and attended every UAW convention for 17 years. He served three terms as the Local 6 president. After 30 years, he retired.

Mr. Roth worked as a writer and editorial board member of the trade union activist magazine, Labor Today, for 25 years. He maintained his activity on the Chicago Committee to Defend the Bill of Rights, the National Negro Labor Council, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Coalition of Labor Union Women, the Chicago Peace Council, Third Unitarian Church, the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression/Chicago Branch, United Auto Workers Region 4 Retirees Council and the Communist Party USA. In 1991, he ran unsuccessfully for the Oak Park village board.

Norm Roth is survived by his two children and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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