Les Orear passed away on Friday, May 30. Les was an organizer with the C.I.O.’s Packinghouse Workers Organizing Committee in the 1930’s and later served as the editor of the the United Packinghouse Workers of America newspaper. Les was proud of his work in the union and the work the UPWA had performed to realize racial equality within the organization.
After retiring from the Packinghouse Workers, Les was a co-founder of the Illinois Labor History Society (ILHS) in 1969. He was its first president of the organization and remained its President Emeritus to his last day. I had the privilege of knowing and working with Les as a volunteer at the ILHS.
Les always understood the importance of communications, of telling labor’s story and preserving it’s unique history. Frustrated by commercial media’s bias to ignore or mischaracterize class conflict, Les saw the need to develop the capacity for labor to tell its own story.
Even at an advanced age, Les eagerly embraced new technologies that could serve that end. We collaborated on earlier versions of the ILHS web site in the 1990’s and thereby broadened the reach of the organization to a national and even international audience. Understanding the importance of television and the opportunity that community access TV provided, Les produced a number of video projects for the ILHS that were telecast on the local community access TV network, CAN TV. Through that process Les and the ILHS became ardent supporters of CAN TV’s mission and worked to help preserve that outlet.
Here’s an excerpt from an interview I conducted with Les several years ago on the formation of the United Packinghouse Workers and how workers built power on the shop floor.
Les Orear was 103 years old. Farewell, Les.