Commentary | Wages, Incomes, and Wealth

In appreciation—George Becker, 1929 – 2007

Opinion pieces and speeches by EPI staff and associates.


In Appreciation

George Becker
1929 – 2007

So Long, George.

By  Jeff Faux

George Becker, who was president of the United Steelworkers of America for seven years, died on February 2 at the age of 78. He was a great friend and supporter of EPI. We, and the world, will miss him.

George was an American original.  A laborer in a steel mill at 15, a marine in both World War II and Korea, and a life-long trade unionist who rose to the top of one of the country’s great labor organizations. But more than just his resumé, George had the qualities that reflected the best people our nation produces. He was tough and fearless, and at the same time remarkably gentle, modest and decent. He was serious and thoughtful and had a blunt common-sense way of speaking.  I never felt that he came into the room to hear himself speak.  He sized you up carefully, and if he decided that you were on the side of those who worked for a living, you had his ear – and his heart.

George loved the steelworkers, and was proud of how the union had allowed them to work their way into the middle class and provide their children the opportunities that the working class had never before had. And he hated the political establishment whose trade policies had cynically sold his workers’ future down the river.

Like other recent leaders of his remarkable union, George believed in the power of ideas, and he respected his members’ intelligence and their capacity to learn and grow and understand the world around him.

When he was first elected president of the Steelworkers, he asked me to come to their convention and deliver an “economics lesson” to the several thousand delegates. Instead of the usual slogans or pictures of the leaders that adorn the walls of the typical convention, George put up ten or so 12 foot charts showing trends in wages, employment, productivity and other economic facts.   He said that he wanted the members to look at these for several days and then have me come in and explain them. When I was just about to go out on the platform, he whispered to me, only half-kidding: “Listen, this is my first convention. And my job depends on how you do.”

After the session, I asked him what he meant. “A lot of people told me not to do this,” he said. “They said the members would be bored with some lecture on economics. But this is about their future. Why wouldn’t they be interested?”

George Becker never stopped learning, asking questions and fighting for the working class. His life is an inspiration to us all.

Jeff Faux   is the founder and a distinguished fellow at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C.