The recent passing of past Canadian Auto Workers and Canadian Labour Congress president Bob White is a tragic loss to all his family, friends, and loved ones. Hopefully they will find comfort in the font of love and respect that will flow their way in the wake of Bob’s life and his life’s work. In terms of Canada, and perhaps the world, it is impossible to view the passing of Bob White through a single lens.
With the passing of iconic Canadians such as Bob White we are witness to not only the passing of the person, but the passing on of their passion for the work, the changes they made to Canada and the world as they marched and lead us through this life to new generations. Bob White’s work in the trade union and social justice movement was both pioneering and transformational. Suggesting that Bob was the only transformational and pioneering leader of progressive movements would be and is unfair to his peers, sisters and brothers, across progressive movements such as labour whom all made equally profound contributions. The list would be long and distinguished, Jean Claude Parrot, Lynn Williams, Kealey Cumming, Shirley Carr, Walter Reuther, the leaders of the Winnipeg General Strike, the strikers that brought about the Rand formula, the miners in Elliott Lake that brought about the Occupational Health and Safety Act, and so many more.
The aim of organized labour is to improve the lives of workers, workers’ families, and their communities. The aim of business is the pursuit of capital and with forty plus years of predominantly business oriented, worker unfriendly governments the world over, these goals frequently contrast with the aim of labour. Organized labour has long recognized that reaching their goals must be attained holistically and that the sharing of wealth is imperative to that success. Bob White professed a sound sentiment some years ago, when he noted the it is the workers, without whom not a wheel would turn, that are the wealth makers. Philanthropic endeavours by business make it appear that their approach is a similar holistic approach, but no such endeavours would have taken place without the pressure of workers and their representatives insisting that businesses share their prosperity with workers and the community at large. It is this insistence on the sharing of prosperity or the creative way of dealing with challenges to this prosperity that made Bob White and this genre of labour leader the transformational leaders that they turned out to be.
Measuring success in the context of workers’ rights and a fair and compassionate state is a bit of a mirror of Bob White’s accomplishments. Human rights, international solidarity with workers fighting apartheid, working to eliminate racism, woman’s rights, unwavering belief in Canada and Canadian workers through taking Canadian Auto Workers out of the UAW and into the CAW, bare knuckle fighting against the corporate agenda and neo-liberalism, ensuring that Canadians have decent paying jobs to go to, political action in the streets and in the legislatures, pushing back against unfair trade and the realization that a fair and compassionate society is not only possible it is ours for the making. These profound and progressive steps have all been achieved by the hard work of organized labour leaders, the rank and file and like minded individuals. Each victory was won by an undiminished belief that a socially responsible and fair society is possible and will be achieved through solid collective action. Based on decades of demonstrated contempt for workers by governments and business these leaders of workers and their members still took on the struggles and won the day by mobilizing workers and the community.
Should these leaders and their supporters leave nothing behind, but their legacy of progressive change and the firm realization that fighting back and creating a better society for all was absolutely necessary, then they have paved the path for the next generation of activists and the new and transformational ways that will change the world and society for the better in spite of this time of ever increasing attacks on workers and the charter rights that embed such things as collective bargaining. Ending this letter to you with two quotes is appropriate. “Unions raise the standard for all workers just as a rising tide lifts all boats” and the United Steelworkers refrain of “One Day Longer” tells the story of how we all benefit from the struggle, what the struggle is likely to look like and what it will take-one day longer than the opposition to the fair and just society.
Vice-President, Bruce County
Grey-Bruce Labour Council
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