FENSTER, LEO (12 Aug. 1910-22 Sept. 1984), a UAW activist, was born in New York, the son of Polish immigrants Samuel and Jennie Fenster. He moved to Cleveland as a child and attended a year at WESTERN RESERVE UNIVERSITY. As a clerk at the Coit Rd. Fisher Body Plant, he helped organize Local 45 of the CIO-Auto Workers' Union (later the Cleveland District Council-UAW), and over the years held many offices. Fenster's leftist influence (he declared himself a Communist in 1942) was prominent in the Eye Opener, the local's paper, which was critical of both UAW and government policies.

Fenster came under increased attack in the late 1940s as "right-wing" union forces tried to oust "left-wing" forces, charging funds had been diverted to political causes and that the Eye Opener was too costly, although it cost less than half what the official UAW paper cost. In Oct. 1950, Fenster was replaced as Eye Opener editor for refusing to run a column supporting the KOREAN WAR. The international tried unsuccessfully to remove him from any local power; he ultimately resigned. Like many early Communist supporters, Fenster grew disenchanted with Kremlin power abuses but remained a leftist critic of social policy. He advocated Vietnam troop withdrawal by 1968, and in 1970 joined a citizens' committee that met with peace negotiators (North Vietnam, South Vietnam, National Liberation Front, USA) in Paris.. After a stroke in 1968, Fenster retired to write and lecture about the history of the labor movement. In 1971, he edited the autobiography of Wyndham Mortimer. Fenster died after another stroke. He left his wife, Bertha Blank, and 4 children: Eric, Marc, Dale, and Russ. Fenster was buried in Hillcrest Cemetery.

Leo Fenster Papers, WRHS.

Leo Fenster Papers, Walter Reuther Library.

Article Categories