Obituary: Sam Orner

Obituary: Sam Orner

We have to report the sad news that one of the tough old stalwarts of the Socialist Movement — Sam Orner — has passed away at the age of 79. Sam led an active and eventful life and spent nearly the whole of it in the struggle against social oppression.

In 1913, when about 19 years old, he joined the Young People’s Socialist League (YPSL) which was connected to the Socialist Party of America. Then he was attracted to the excitement of the “Wobbly” movement and became active in the I.W.W. He travelled all over the United States, often riding the rails in the freezing cold or the scorching sun, helping to organize the low-paid workers, particularly those employed seasonally in the fields.

He was at one time a speaker for the S.P. of A. and spoke at meetings all over Brooklyn, at Coney Island, Brownsville and Williamsburg. In 1921 he was conducting classes concerned with Marx’s Value, Price and Profit. However, in 1923 Sam came in contact with and joined the Socialist Education Society. This was the fore-runner of the W.S.P. in New York City.

In the early 1930’s, he took part in organizing the New York taxi-cab drivers. When they struck in 1934 he was compelled to leave the W.S.P. to concentrate upon the involved affairs of the union. This was the strike that formed the subject of Clifford Odets’ play Waiting For Lefty. Our Sam Orner was “Lefty”. As he did no fall in line with the views of the gangsters who were seeking control of the union he was badly beaten-up and taken to hospital. A friend got him out of the hospital before the mobsters could finish him off.

He finished with cab-driving and rejoined the W,S.P., speaking frequently in Union Square. His name appeared for many years in the back-pages of The Western Socialist for interested readers in the New Jersey area to contact. He was always an active member. In 1965, he made a trip to England and spoke at a Trafalgar Square meeting as well as elsewhere. On the 4th of July of this year, Sam suffered a stroke from which he seemed to be recovering. But on the 13th August he had another stroke and for three weeks thereafter he lay in hospital until he finally passed away on September 2nd.

All his life, up to the last, Sam was a tough and fearless warrior in the working class movement. When the present writer saw him lying in agony in the hospital he was reminded of an old poem:

    See an old unhappy bull

    Sick in soul and body both . . .

    Waiting for the flesh that dies.

People of Sam’s calibre leave a gap when they go. There are many who have been indebted to him for help in the past, both financial and otherwise. A long time ago, one little girl in Boston used to call him “Sammy Claus”.

He was like a dynamo, and his impatient activity was inclined to arouse antagonism at times. However, he was a sincere and energetic advocate of Socialism, which was his main interest in life. By this he will be remembered now that he gone to the realm of eternal silence. Would that there were more Sam Orners.


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