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Frank Rosen: Union Organizer, Political Activist, Civil Libertarian via Dissent News Wire

Frank Rosen, longtime labor leader, political activist, and member of the Defending Dissent Foundation board, died November 28, 2016 in Chicago where he spent most of his life. He was 91.  Rosen took part in many of the seminal moments in Chicago history, from studying nuclear physics under Enrico Fermi, to fighting to defend civil liberties in the McCarthy era, to the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements, to electing Harold Washington as mayor, to organizing against the unregulated power of utility companies, all while helping thousands of members of his union struggle on a daily basis for decent wages and benefits and dignity on the job.

Following 15 years as a rank-and-file member of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) and ten years on the union’s national staff, Rosen served as the elected president of UE District 11 from 1976 until his retirement in 1990.  Throughout that time Rosen worked closely on many social justice issues with other leaders of the left wing of Chicago’s labor movement, led by the likes of Charlie Hayes of the Packinghouse Workers, who later became a U.S. Congressman.

Rosen was born in Pittsburgh in 1925 and grew up in Cleveland, Ohio and Miami Beach, Florida.  His political views were shaped very early by the experience of seeing his father’s clothing shop in Cleveland go under during the Depression. He joined the Navy in 1943 straight out of high school, attended officer training school at Georgia Tech, and served in the Pacific as World War II came to a close.  His ship was one of the first to visit Nagasaki, Japan after the atomic bomb had been dropped on that city. The utter devastation he witnessed there contributed to his decision not to become a nuclear physicist after getting a bachelors degree at Cleveland’s Case Western Reserve University and doing graduate work in physics at the University of Chicago, both of which he attended on the GI Bill. He would frequently say that he looked around at the height of the Cold War and decided that the world needed fewer nuclear physicists and more people working for a world where the atomic bomb would never be used again.

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