Amid an intricate vaulted ceiling and Judy Baca’s vibrant murals that span the former site of LA’s legendary Ambassador Hotel, now home to the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools, UCLA Labor Center staff and labor studies faculty gathered for a celebration of life event over the weekend. The occasion honored the life and legacy of former trade union and political activist Paul Schrade.
The National Labor Chair of Robert F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign, Schrade, passed away last November at age 97. While he is often remembered for being present and critically wounded during the attack that claimed Kennedy’s life at the historic hotel in 1968, speakers at the remembrance depicted a more thorough portrait of his life.
Event speakers shared how Schrade’s ideals, firmly rooted in social and economic justice, defined his existence. They emphasized his decades-long leadership as the Western Regional Director of the United Automobile Workers (UAW) union, the instrumental role he played in introducing Kennedy to farmworker rights icons, Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chávez and they also paid homage the tireless determination and radical spirit that guided his life and work.
Huerta, who conceived of the remembrance and brought together numerous civic and labor organizations, including the UCLA Labor Center, to coordinate the event at the school’s library — the exact site where Schrade, Huerta and Kennedy were together on the night Kennedy lost his life. The library is now named in Schrade’s honor.
“[Paul] was so selfless…it was never about him,” said Huerta. “It was about how many people he could get together, how many people that he could get introduced to each other, how many people he could help with his presence — he was always thinking about how to make the world a better place.”
Coming off the largest and longest strike in higher education history involving 48,000 graduate student workers, UAW Regional Director Mike Miller, who leads the union Schrade once led, discussed how Schrade’s leadership helped transform the organization into the militant, worker-led democratic organization it is today.
“We pay tribute to Paul when we are starting to organize the electric vehicle industry in California to create a world where climate justice and worker justice are one in the same,” he said.
After Kennedy’s death, Schrade devoted his life to advancing gun control, became the first labor leader to speak out against the Vietnam War and eventually played a key role in organizing a community task force during a long struggle to acquire the property and build the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools to serve this working-class community.
“We looked up to Paul Schrade as a mentor, as a hero, as someone who was willing to take on the powers that be, who was willing to stand up for justice, who was willing to fight for what was right,” said Labor Center Director Kent Wong.
Following the remembrance, UCLA labor historian and Institute for Research on Labor and Employment Director Tobias Higbie, explained how the event’s audience was symbolic of Schrade’s lifelong efforts to forge unity within the labor movement.
“It was a fitting tribute to Paul Schrade’s lifetime of building bridges across the divisions that weakened the labor movement,” he said. “In the 1950s and 1960s, the UAW was a leading force for progressive public policy. Today, workers in education are among the leading forces challenging economic inequality, racism and public disinvestment.”
LAUSD School Board President Jackie Goldberg emceed the celebration. The event also featured remarks by California State Senator María Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles), UCLA professor of Chicana Studies and muralist Judy Baca, United Teachers Los Angeles President Cecily Myart Cruz, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., and music by Peter and Steve Jones.
Photos: Paul Schrade- A Celebration of Life
Revisit other event highlights, here.