Barbara Zeluck, 1923-2010

OUR COMRADE BARBARA Zeluck died at her home June 5 in New York City. A memorial event is being planned for Saturday afternoon, September 18 and a fuller tribute will appear in our next issue.

Born in 1923 into a coal mine-owning family in Birmingham, Alabama, Barbara traveled far — socially, politically, and geographically — in her life. She joined the Communist Party while a student at Vassar in the early 1940s. Like many others, she left the CP following the suppression of the 1956 Hungarian revolution and the revelation of Nikita Khrushchev’s “secret speech” outlining Stalin’s crimes. She was subsequently a member of the Socialist Workers Party, the International Socialists, Workers Power and from 1986 until her death a founding member of Solidarity.

Her journey through the U.S. left was always grounded in her commitment to a vision of socialism achieved through the action of a self-organized working class. Likewise, her belief in radical democracy and her anti-capitalist politics guided her work in the women’s movement in the 1970s and 1980s when she was deeply involved, through the Coalition for Abortion Rights and Against Sterilization Abuse (CARASA), in efforts to build a movement for reproductive rights led by working-class women of color.

The political causes Barbara was involved in ranged from opposition to the Vietnam War to support for self-determination for Palestine to support for a single-payer health care plan. She helped build the White Lung Association to fight the outrages of corporations who visited the white deaths of mesothelioma and asbestosis on hundreds of thousands of workers and workers’ families. This passion was inspired by the death of Barbara’s husband Steve Zeluck, a veteran teacher unionist and longtime socialist militant, who contracted mesothelioma from exposure to asbestos decades earlier as a shipyard worker.

Barbara’s wide-ranging interests also included, for many years, circulating her own expert translations of articles from the French revolutionary socialist press — alas, before the age of the internet that would have vastly expanded her audience for these documents.

Beyond her political life, comrades and friends knew Barbara through her vast knowledge and love of opera (she shared tickets for terrific seats at the Met with many over the years) and her work around occupational health and safety. Barbara had a long and active life, unwavering in her support for radical social change and movements that she felt were dedicated to mobilizing the working class and raising class consciousness.

[This brief tribute is excerpted from an appreciation of Barbara Zeluck by several Solidarity members in New York City. For updated plans on the memorial, contact marshapn@gmail.com.]

ATC 147, July-August 2010

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