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Wurf Memorial Fund

Established 1982

Jerry Wurf, 1919-1981: A Short Biography

Dr. Martin Luther King, P. J. Ciampa and Jerry Wurf discuss the strike.
Photo by Richard L. Copley

  As national president of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Jerry Wurf stood out as the twentieth century’s most influential leader in organizing U.S. public employees.

Born in New York on May 18, 1919, the son of immigrants from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Jerry Wurf developed polio at age 4. Later in life he lamented that, when it comes to health, he suffered from more afflictions than Job. Despite these many maladies, Jerry Wurf became a forceful communicator known for a foghorn voice and a steely determination to reshape the labor movement.

Click Here for the entire short biography

The Fund

The Jerry Wurf Memorial Fund was established in memory of Jerry Wurf, the late President of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). Its income is used to initiate programs and activities that "reflect Jerry Wurf's belief in the dignity of work, and his commitment to improving the quality of lives of working people, to free open thought and debate about public policy issues, to informed political action. ..and to reflect his interests in the quality of management in public service, especially as it assures the ability of workers to do their jobs with maximum effect and efficiency in environments sensitive to their needs and activities.

Click Here for more information about AFSCME and the Jerry Wurf Scholarship.

Wurf Memorial Lectures


1984 Wurf Memorial Lecture
Olof Palme,
Swedish Prime Minister
“Employment and Welfare”

2001 Wurf Memorial Lecture
Honorable Albert J. Gore
"The Strength of America"

2003 Wurf Memorial Lecture
Bill Richardson
Governor of New Mexico
"The Future of the Democratic Party and the Latino Vote"

2012 Wurf Memorial Lecture
Brigid O’Farrell,
Mills College
“She Was One of Us: Eleanor Roosevelt and the American Worker”

Recent Event: 2016 Wurf Memorial Lecture - Lee Saunders, President, American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees - "THE VALUE OF LABOR: TRANSFORMING UNIONS TO MEET THE CHALLENGE OF OUR TIME" Thursday, January 28, 2016, 4:00 – 6:00 pm, Ames Court, Austin Hall Harvard Law School 1585 Mass. Ave., Cambridge. Introduction by Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh

2015 Jerry Wurf Memorial Lecture
“Labor, Racism, and Justice in the 21st Century”
Rev. James M. Lawson, Jr.



Reverend James Lawson excerpt:

 “…. to make a long story short, I want to try to say that the experiment to have a democratic society is the most important experiment the human race has launched, probably ever. To lift human life to a level where we have the capacity to govern ourselves and to live with one another and to create cooperation rather than war and violence is the great frontier for the 21st century and beyond. And in that act of shaping democratic society, unions are absolutely essential.”


Click on brochure for full speech....


2014 Jerry Wurf Memorial Lecture
"Citizens Derided: Corporate Politics & Religion in the Roberts Court"
Jamin Raskin, Professor, American University, Washington College of Law
& Maryland State Senator

2013 cover


Opening Remarks by Professor Jamin B. Raskin:

"In 2010, in the 5-4 Citizens United decision, the conservative majority on the Roberts Court broke from government 'of the people, by the people, and for the people,' and gave us a constitutional blueprint for government of the corporations, by the corporations, and for the corporations. It held that for-profit corporations have the right to spend unlimited sums—million or billions of dollars-- promoting or disparaging candidates for public office."


Click on brochure for full speech....

2013 Jerry Wurf Memorial Lecture
Saket Soni, Executive Director, New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice and
National Guestworker Alliance

2013 cover


Opening Remarks by Elissa McBride, Director of Education and Leadership Training, AFSCME:

"Born and raised in New Delhi, India, Saket Soni has been a driving force in the effort to secure justice for workers fighting for their dignity in post-Katrina New Orleans. During the reconstruction of the Gulf Coast, black workers whose families had lived in New Orleans for generations were denied jobs. At the same time, thousands of immigrant workers were given false promises of steady jobs, fair pay, great conditions and even permanent legal status...Saket Soni brought those workers together, linking their struggles across the lines of race and class and citizenship. He helped build a broad platform from which they could wage an inspiring fight for justice and dignity."


Click on brochure for full speech....

2012 Jerry Wurf Memorial Lecture
“She Was One of Us: Eleanor Roosevelt and the American Worker”
Brigid O’Farrell, Independent Scholar, Mills College

2012 cover


Opening Remarks by Elissa McBride, Director of Education and Leadership Training, AFSCME:

"Like Eleanor, [Brigid] knows that we can make real change if we link education and action. I hope you will listen, learn, and leave committed to honor the legacy of Jerry Wurf and Eleanor Roosevelt by passing on the knowledge you gain here to others, so that together, we can restore the right to organize and bargain for all workers – public and private."


Click on brochure for full speech....

2011 Wurf Memorial Lecture
"Raising Our Sights: Fighting for a Progressive Vision in Sharply Contested Terrain"
Miles Rapoport

2011 cover

Opening Remarks by Paul Booth, Executive Assistant to the President, AFSCME:

"Miles Rapoport is the president of Demos. What is Demos? There is an awful lot of Demos material out on the table there, and you really should indulge freely in it. To me, Demos is simply the leading voice in the United States for small d democracy. Its mission, as I see it, is this cause which it so
ably advances.

Miles has a career that included personal involvement in Connecticut politics, to which he brought activism, organizational skills, and a set of real deep commitments."

Click on brochure for full speech....



2003 Wurf Memorial Lecture
"The Future of the Democratic Party and the Latino Vote",
Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico

Opening Remarks by Elena Kagan, Dean, Harvard Law School:

" This is a great privilege for us. Actually, before I say anything else I'd like to welcome Jerry Wurf's family: Mildred Wurf and his children, Abigail and Nick Wurf. We are extremely pleased that you could join us today.
    For those of you who don't know, Jerry Wurf was the seventh president of AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which is now one of the biggest unions in America. Most of that union's great growth, really its coming into being as a major force in the union movement, took place under Jerry Wurf, who was really one of the great modern labor leaders."

Click on brochure for full speech....

2001 Wurf Memorial Lecture
"The Strength of America",
Honorable Albert J. Gore

Opening Remarks by Lawrence H. Summers, President, Harvard University:

 " Al Gore is going to speak to us about the strength of America. In a moment, I want to say a few words about the strength of Al Gore but, before I do, I want to say a few words about public service. I want to recognize Jerry Wurf, someone I knew well as his family vacationed near mine in Wellfleet, Massachusetts and someone who I admired for his commitment to doing the right thing by the people he represented and doing the right thing by this country. Jerry made what I think is a point that none of us at the university can make often enough or strongly enough and that is the importance of public service. There was only one group of people who were going up the stairs in the World Trade Center on September 11 and those were public servants. Public servants. People who are paid by taxes. People who were workers in the government of New York City, workers in the government of New York State and workers in the government of the United States. Anyone who wants to say that government work is wrong or that government is wrong or that government is bad should think about those people going up those stairs at that moment."

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1989 Wurf Memorial Lecture
"The Changing Role of the Union and Competitiveness"
Donald Ephlin,
International Vice President and
Director of the General Motors Department,
United Auto Workers

Ephlin cover

Opening Remarks by William Lucy:

"Organized labor is rarely associated with ivied walls and olive groves, but Harvard's Trade Union program has taken a major step towards correcting that.

Through the Jerry Wurf Memorial Fund, AFSCME has been associated with Harvard since 1982. Our ties grew even closer last year with the organizing campaign that brought more than 3,000 of Harvard's clerical and technical workers under the AFSCME flag. Some say this makes AFSCME part of the Harvard Family, and someput it the otherway around, but either way, both Harvard and AFSCME are the better for it".

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1984 Wurf Memorial Lecture
“Employment and Welfare”
Olof Palme, Swedish Prime Minister

palme cover


"Some time ago in Vienna, I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Bruno Kreisky's speech when he retired as chancellor and leader of the Austrian Social Democratic Party. As we in the audience sat there listening, we expected to hear an account of his long and eventful life and of his wide-ranging and successful political experiences. But not at all! Bruno Kreisky talked only about the future. At his retirement from offi cial life, the whole of his thinking was looking forward..."


Click on the brochure cover for more...





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A blog founded by Benjamin Sachs (LWP Faculty Co-DIrector) and Jack Goldsmith (Harvard Law School), devoted to workers, unions, and their politics.