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Home » Officer Columns » A Model of Labor Activism Passes

A Model of Labor Activism Passes

  -  AFM International Secretary-Treasurer

With the recent passing of retired AFM International Representative Eugene Tournour, the AFM and the labor movement have lost a remarkable labor activist. Gene could often be found on the front lines of demonstrations, protesting injustice in the fight for civil and workers’ rights.

In the early 1960s, Gene was a Regional Representative for the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). CORE espoused a strategy of nonviolent direct action, including sit-ins, jail-ins, and freedom rides. Gene often found himself on the receiving end of excessive force while he stood up for justice. He never hesitated getting himself into “good trouble” as John Lewis would say. Gene was fearless when it came to standing up for what was right. 

A little over a decade ago, several of us at the Federation joined with Local 802 (New York City) to attend a demonstration as part of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, which was a protest movement fighting “economic inequality and the influence of money in politics.”

We all assembled at a park in lower Manhattan and marched toward Wall Street. It was a peaceful demonstration with no violence that I was aware of at the time. The very next morning, Gene, having attended the march, came to work sporting a big black eye and red abrasions to the side of his face. We asked him what happened. He said, he was just standing there in peaceful protest when “the cops came by and busted me in the head with a night stick!” The beating he took looked painful but Gene smiled and acted as if it was all in a day’s work. 

Gene was the real deal. He loved working in the labor movement and all of us are the beneficiaries of his commitment and passion for justice.

Jefferson Bank & Trust protests were a major part of the 1960s Civil Rights story in St. Louis.