I drove to Maine late last week to visit my dear friend Frank Kadi in a nursing home in South Portland. I don’t think Frank, who remains the same analytical and upbeat thinker as he was years ago, is crazy about his new home but he wasn’t going to allow that to fill up our conversation.
Frank was a union activist and leader for roughly 50 years.
In my experience there were few better. Courage, honesty, and modesty informed his character and presence in the labor movement. And a vision of a just, peaceful and sustainable world animated his every day.
That hasn’t changed to this day, although the journey there is longer and bumpier than either of us thought at the dawn of our political activism.
Few were as skillful as Frank at the craft of building left-center unity or, more likely, center-left unity. Left in his universe was (and still is) a capacious category and an approach to his coworkers on the job and activists in the union hall, labor council, the Democratic Party, and beyond that has no room for sectarianism and bombast.
Never did he wear his working class credentials on his sleeve to impress others and his class loyalties were manifested by action, not rhetorical hyperbole and self promotion. In union halls where the audience was, in many cases, white and male as well as in offices of the higher ups, he unhesitatingly, even where he expected blowback, fought for racial and gender equality and unity.
Moreover, he dared to go against the grain when it seemed warrented. As a young trade unionist, for example, he spoke out against the war in Vietnam when it wasn’t a popular position in Maine’s labor movement and for a just settlement of the land claims suit of the Passamaquoddy and Penobscot tribes back then, notwithstanding the pressures from the powerful pulp and paper workers union to oppose it.
Frank appreciated that political action was a field of struggle on which the trade union movement had to leave an ever larger footprint though not independently from, but through the Democratic Party and its own political action committees. Few things made him happier than labor’s role in the election of Presidents Obama and Biden. And not surprisingly, nothing angrier than the rise of Trump and the MAGA movement.
Frank is uncommonly kind and self effacing. In a conversation he will listen more than talk. And he listens intently and with empathy, no matter who the person is. When he does speak, he speaks from the heart as well as the head and in a language that is broadly accessible, never a vehicle to impress his audience of his erudition or stature.
Frank’s legacy of struggle is one that young trade unionists and political activists in Maine would be wise to draw from. He remains a reservoir of knowledge, encouragement, and sober advice. He’s a brother and friend to me and many others who have had the good luck to know him. Keep on keepin’ on, Frank!