Opinion Column

Munro a profane, passionate union leader

By Bill Tieleman, News, Views, and Attitude – 24 hours

Jack Munro, the longtime woodworkers union president, passed away Nov. 15, 2013 after battling cancer. (PHOTO SUBMITTED)

Jack Munro, the longtime woodworkers union president, passed away Nov. 15, 2013 after battling cancer. (PHOTO SUBMITTED)

If I had to sum up what it is I’ve tried to accomplish, it is to make trade unions an accepted part of society.” — Jack Munro, 1988

 

My friend Jack Munro, the longtime woodworkers union president, passed away last Friday after battling cancer.

Munro was easily Canada’s most colourful, controversial and unlikely labour leader.

Unlikely because of the enormous obstacles he faced – his father died of tuberculosis when Munro was just 11, and the family was sent to a relief farm during the Depression.

Colourful because Munro’s personality was irrepressible despite the tough upbringing that always left this giant of a man on the side of the little guy.

Controversial because Munro didn’t mince words – in fact, he used them like a battering ram – and his swearing and F-bombs often made him unquotable in the media without extensive editing.

Munro let employers, environmentalists, politicians and other union leaders know exactly what he thought of them in no uncertain terms.

For example, after conservation groups demanded logging stop because endangered spotted owls could be harmed, Munro said: “I tell my guys if they see a spotted owl to shoot it.”

Munro’s no-retreat approach was hated by some, but it earned him a huge following in the then-International Woodworkers of America union in B.C.

Munro’s fighting style propelled him to become president from 1973 to 1992. He led the IWA on the most expensive strike the province ever saw – an 18-week shutdown in 1986 over contracting out union jobs that cost the forest industry an estimated $2.5 billion.

Munro’s life truly was about protecting workers, something I learned directly from him after our first meeting in 1992 and many times after.

Contrary to his self-description as an “old-style, loud-mouthed trade union leader who pops off at the drop of a hat,” I was surprised to find him thoughtful, wise and quite humble.

It was fitting that Munro ended his long career by launching the Labour Heritage Centre, which promotes the history of working people in B.C. and on-the-job safety.

You can see Munro’s legacy at the Vancouver Convention Centre, which features educational panels about labour’s role in building the province.

Jack Munro – an unforgettable brother who walked the talk every time.

Bill Tieleman is a former NDP strategist. Read more Tieleman at billtieleman.blogspot.com. Email: mailto:weststar@telus.net Twitter: @BillTieleman

 

 

 

 

 

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