Mike Alexander, Steelworker, union and community activist, and leader of the local branch of the Communist Party, died at his home at the age of 65 in Youngstown, Ohio on June 3, following a four month battle with pancreatic cancer. He is survived by Diane, his wife of 33 years, his daughter, Dr. Amy M. Hochadel, an international urban economic development planner in London, England, and his son, Saker, a middle school teacher in Columbus, Ohio.
The family greeted hundreds of friends and co-workers at a local funeral chapel and reception on June 8. The people came to offer support and share their grief at the passing of someone who had done so much for their community; someone who loved life and radiated warmth, friendship, and human solidarity to all who knew him.
Symbolizing his zest for life, Mike’s bright red Mazda Miata sport convertible complete with a golf bag and clubs was parked in front of the entrance.
The walls of the chapel were adorned with pictures of Mike enjoying his family at home and on vacations or taking part in demonstrations. Posted on one wall was the obituary he wrote himself that was published in the Youngstown Vindicator. It stated that he was “a steadfast and passionate activist in the struggle for peace, justice, and the working class, and was a proud, lifelong member of the Communist Party USA.”
On a table below were copies of Volume One of Capital by Karl Marx and “Working Class USA” by Gus Hall, the former General Secretary of the Party, who led the 1937 Little Steel Strike to establish the Steelworkers union in nearby Warren and Niles. Also on the table was a book in Arabic entitled Bejjeh, the name of the village in Lebanon, his parents were from.
Mike felt particularly close to the Party’s longtime National Chairman Henry Winston and Winston was the middle name he gave his son.
Mike worked in the open hearth at U.S. Steel from his late teens until the mill closed in 1980. He then worked as a union organizer and staff representative for SEIU and AFSCME before getting a job as a laborer and surveyor with the Mahoning County Engineer’s Office, where he was a member of Teamsters Local 407 for 20 years until retirement in 2012. He represented the local as a delegate to the Youngstown Labor Council.
In a 2004 presentation to the Socialist Scholars Conference, Mike recalled that in 1969, he “was completely radicalized by the Vietnam War,” and “flunked the mental test” given by the draft board, “tore up all the papers” he got and sent them back with “not a very nice letter” and “that’s the last I heard from them.”
He soon joined the Communist Party and became a leader of the party’s Joe Dallet club, named after a Youngstown resident who died fighting against fascism in 1937 as a member of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade of American volunteers in the Spanish Civil War.
Mike got active in the Mahoning Valley Coalition for Peace and Justice and was key to mobilizing thousands of protesters in demonstrations against the Gulf War in downtown Youngstown. He also worked with the Youngstown Arab community center in the fight to end Israeli occupation and establish a Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza.
Mike was active in local progressive Democratic Party politics.
Comradeship and solidarity pervaded the reception where a poem by Langston Hughes was read, a toast was offered, and a recording off Billy Bragg’s version of The Internationale was played.
According to the obituary, although he loved to travel, Mike “had the most fun when he was hanging out with his buddies, drinking beer and wine, eating good food, listening to great music, and talking (loudly) about politics, especially when all these came together on a warm summer night, whether downtown or at a cottage on Lake Erie.”
“The family has asked that in lieu of prayers or flowers, donations be made to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, www.pancan.org, and Mike would request that we all get off our butts and fight for peace and justice.”