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Sam Kushner; Longtime Socialist Journalist, 72

October 08, 1987|BURT A. FOLKART and HENRY WEINSTEIN | Times Staff Writers

Sam Kushner, a lifelong Socialist, prolific labor writer and radio commentator most recently heard over station KPFK-FM in Los Angeles, died Tuesday at a hospital here.

His wife, Florence, said he had been suffering from a series of kidney and heart ailments that had kept him off the air for the last several months. He was 72.

A native of New York City, Kushner--whose Monday evening "Labor Scene" was believed the only regular labor-oriented broadcast in the nation--was a former member of the Communist Party who began his writing in sports.

In an aside to a fellow reporter, he once remarked that the closest he had ever come to true socialism in this country came in a press box during the 1958 World Series when (capitalistic) baseball owners put out a lavish spread of food and drink for visiting (working) writers.

He worked originally for the old Daily People's World, the official newspaper of the Communist Party U.S.A., before the political climate of the 1950s reduced it to a weekly publication and then continued with that paper as editor of its Los Angeles bureau.

"I went to some events like City Council meetings just so people could see that Communists were really people," he told The Times in a 1985 interview. "But we made an impact in certain fields," he said, adding that one of those was the farm worker organizing movement of the 1970s.

"The People's World was read by a lot of different people, including liberals in the Democratic Party who were natural allies of the farm workers. So, when the farm workers went to them for support, they knew what their cause was all about."

Kushner's book, "Long Road to Delano," commemorated the founding and struggle of that movement.

He also wrote on a wide variety of topics for other publications and in the late 1970s and early '80s was a frequent contributor to the Opinion section of The Times.

Dorothy Healey, former head of the Southern California Communist Party, said Kushner--like so many other party members--became disenchanted with the party after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and eventually resigned.

By telephone from Washington, where she now lives with her son and daughter-in-law, Healey also said that Kushner "had probably the most remarkable fidelity to the potential of the working class when it starts to move of anyone I've met."

In the 1950s Kushner, who in his youth had been an organizer for the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers Union and labor secretary for the Chicago chapter of the Communist Party, was forced to move from place to place to escape McCarthy Era subpoenas.

After Sen. Joseph McCarthy's censure by fellow senators, Kushner moved to Los Angeles and took over the People's World bureau here.

Antonio Rodriguez, a longtime activist for Latino causes and now an attorney with the East Los Angeles Immigration Project, remembered Kushner as a person with a "deep sense of humanity and active concern for the welfare of working people. . . . "

In addition to his wife, Kushner is survived by a son, daughter and several grandchildren. There will be no funeral.

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