Stanford University The Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute
Gus Tyler, Labor Leader and Activist , Dies at 99
June 13, 2011

A long time leader with the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union, Gus Tyler spent his life fighting for the rights of workers combining his socialist politics with the belief that democracy was vital in unions and unions were vital to democracies.

Born Augustus Tilove to Eastern European Jewish immigrants in October 1911 in Brooklyn, he changed his last name to honor the leader of a 14th-century English peasant uprising, Wat Tyler. It was through his mother, who started working in the sweatshops of New York's Lower East Side when she was 10, however, that Tyler was introduced to the socialist outlook that would shape the articles and speeches he would write. As he recalled in an interview with New York Newsday in 1988, it was his mother's belief that "socialism was what God ordained," that which convinced him "it was just the natural thing. People are people and they shouldn't be rich and they shouldn't be poor. I just thought this was the way you live."

Tyler began his activism early and at 16 he was editing the Young People's Socialist League's newspaper. By the time he was a student at New York University he had read Edward Gibbon's six volume The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire because he wanted to know "how empires have been toppled in the past." After graduating from NYU in 1933, Tyler became an assistant labor editor at The Forward, a socialist leaning Jewish daily newspaper in New York.

Less than a year after joining The Forward, Tyler left to join the garment workers union where he spent more than forty years heading up its political and educational wings. In 1945 he became the union's assistant president, a post he held under four different ILGWU presidents, including its longtime leader David Dubinsky, before retiring in 1989. Over the course of those four decades Tyler continued to push for rights of the underrepresented including government-sponsored health care and better political representation of cities through the reapportioning of voting districts.

Tyler passed away on 3 June in Sarasota, Florida at the age of 99.

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