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Former International USW President Leo Gerard On The Past, Present & Future Of The Union Movement

Published Wednesday, November 27, 2019
by CBC Radio
Former International USW President Leo Gerard On The Past, Present & Future Of The Union Movement

Leo Gerard was 11 years old when he handed out his first Union leaflets. That was in 1958 and he was living in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada - a mining town.  The leaflets were for the Mine Mill, the Union his father belonged to.  What Gerard didn't know then was that he would spend much of the rest of his life as a Labor Leader and Activist.  He began as a Staff Representative at the United Steelworkers (the USW) and moved quickly through the ranks.  This Summer, he retired as International President of the USW, a position he had held for 18 years.  

Gerard spoke to The Sunday Edition's Michael Enright of CBC News about his life in the Labor Movement and the future of Unions in an age of globalized trade, a collapsing manufacturing sector and precarious employment:

Why Is The Private Sector So Anti-Union? - When I became a District Director, I was 38 years old.  I sat down at one of our board lunches between meetings.  Our chief economist at time, a guy named Phil Smith, said: "You know guys, we're in a battle that nobody understands.  It's a battle between those that want to make money by manipulating money and those that want to make money by building things.  If the people that want to make money by manipulating paper win, we're in big trouble."  That was 1986.  And that's really what happened. The economies have been driven to reward just one participant in the system.  And that's the stakeholder being the shareholder.  The rest of us are left by the wayside.

Is This The Reason That Manufacturing In The U.S., And To A Certain Extent In Canada, Has Been Hollowed Out?  Companies Are Moving To Mexico Or China, Taking The Unionized And Good-Paying Jobs. - That's a key component of this.  I'll give you an example. We've had a longtime relationship with Goodyear Tire and Rubber.  They had a financial crisis about eight years ago.  We helped them get through that, but now they've decided they're going to build a brand new tire plant in Monterrey, Mexico.  A Steelworker or a Rubber Worker in Toronto or in Akron would make about $28 dollars an hour - plus benefits.  A Tiremaker in Monterrey, Mexico makes $2.20 an hour, if they're at the top of the heap.  If they're a new Employee, they start off at 99 American cents per hour.  Don't ask me to compete with that. Don't ask me why a government lets that occur.  It happens because the financial powers in developed countries, as well as the United States and Canada, have influence over the economic model.  This is not a gift from God.  This is an economic model that was designed by those planning to make money by manipulating paper and maximizing their return.  The hell with the community, the hell with the Workers, the hell with my social responsibility.  And for some of them still, the hell with the environment.  Why would a company like Goodyear, who's an established name brand company, feel that they need to pay somebody $2.20 an hour?  You know why?  Because they can get away with it.  I have two words for you: Donald Trump.  You had to deal with him.  You had a role in getting him to lift the steel tariffs on Canada.  Tell me about him.  Tell me about that.  It was very clear to me and some others that the Trump move on steel and aluminum tariffs on Canada was a move to try and leverage Canada as he was attempting to negotiate NAFTA 2.0.  It had nothing to do with the Canadian economy, old steel and aluminum being competitive, cheating or anything else.

What Has Been The Impact Of President Trump On The Labor Movement In The U.S.? - Here's some statistics.  While he's trying to pretend he's negotiating a trade deal with China, America's trade deficit with China has gone up during that period of time.  In fact the statistics were just out - 80,000 factories have closed in America during Trump's first two and a half years. These are a lot of mom and pops that were put out of business because of the tariffs and because of other stuff that was done.  The Steelworkers Union is for tariffs but we're for tariffs on those countries that cheat.  Those countries that don't play by International Trade Rules should not get a free ride into the market in Canada or in the United States or any advanced Democracy.  The nature of work itself has changed radically since you and I started out.  There are more and more non-standard, precarious forms of work, especially in what they call the Gig Economy.  Why have Unions been slow to organize these people?  I would say the reason that we've been slow is the Gig Economy has been so fast. The rules on organizing Trade Unions are so antiquated. These are the rules that were brought after the Second World War.  During that period of time, industry has learned to slow down the application of the rules or roll them back or make them unenforceable.  I keep repeating it because that's the reality: America has the most Anti-Worker organizing structure in the advanced global economy.  We will have to fight, as I call it, the Ubers - the Ubers of the world.  I don't care if they're existing as long as they have to play by the same rules as the other transportation organizations.  But when Uber doesn't have to, that gives them an unfair advantage.

To Read This CBC News Interview With Leo Gerard In Its Entirety, Go To:


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