Thursday 28 April 2011

What is a Trade Unionist? By M. A. (Tex) Hughes

Years ago, attended the retirement event for a long-time CUPE activist.  Paul Moist, CUPE's National President, spoke and included excerpts from the following.  He'd cited the author and I Googled ferociously trying to find a copy. No luck.  After a few emails were exchanged, Brother Moist provided me with a scan of the original document.  It was a single page, no idea what the publication was or when it was printed by CUPE Local 1326 (though it appears to have been some time ago) and the gender was primarily masculine.

To update it, I made it gender neutral, but the rest remains intact, as written, including the odd (to me) mixture of American and Canadian spellings.  Now, when someone asks you what a trade unionist is, you can send them here.  Be warned:  He sets the bar very, very high.  It is something for activists to strive for.

On the occasion of his retirement, after some thirty-eight years as a union member, union officer, representative of the National Union of Public Employees, and later the Canadian Union of Public Employees and a regional director, Brother M. A. (Tex) Hughes gave this reply when asked the simple question,

In my opinion, a Trade Unionist is a person who has dedicated his or her life to the task of fighting for the betterment of all workers.  To such a person, an injury to one is an injury to all.  A gain for one is a gain for all and justice for one leads to a better chance for all to receive justice.

Trade Unionists are prepared to fight for themselves, but to fight longer and harder for others.  They are willing to contribute time, effort and money to advance the cause of the labour movement, and to do so without counting the cost.

There are no 9 to 5 Trade Unionists.  Days off, weekends and evenings away from family is a price they are prepared to pay.

The question posed by President Kennedy could have been, "Ask not what your union can do for you.  Ask, rather, what you can do for your union."  A real Unionist does not have to be persuaded to stand for union office or to accept committee work or become a Shop Steward.  And they do not ask to be paid for performing such work.  They do not use their union position to advance their career.  They will refuse to accept a promotion or an appointment if it means selling out to management or compromising their trade union principles.

The Unionist knows that sacrifices must be made if they are to live up to those union principles.  They are ready to pay that price, even if it costs their job, their chances for promotion, their popularity, the goodwill of their bosses or the support of less dedicated fellow workers.

No Trade Unionist will ever cross a picket line under any circumstances.  A picket line is sacred, whether it is legal or illegal, whether it is set up by their union, another union, a non-union organization or even a rival organization.

No unionist will ever go back to work while anyone in their union is still on strike, even if half of the other members crawl back; they will stay out until the strike is called off by a majority vote of the members.  Not even if they voted against the strike in the first place, will they sell out their fellow members.  They may lose their car, their home, their livelihood, but they will not scab.

The real Unionist will not allow personalities to dictate their actions.  They may dislike certain members or officers but will not allow this to prevent their working with them for the good of the union or from fighting for them if they need help.  They will not criticize or condemn their union or its officers in public, but rather work from within to correct the situation.  They will never disclose information that should remain within the membership.

The Unionist knows that any union is only as strong as its members and that each member must work to keep the union strong.  They cannot sit back and let others do it for them.  The member who refuses to act, who expects the executive, the representative, the National, or other members to carry the load is no trade unionist.  Real Trade Unionists do all that is required of them, then look around to see what more they can do.

The Trade Unionist knows that the labour movement was born out of desperation and frustration, in times when workers had no rights whatsoever; when it was a punishable crime to even meet with another worker to discuss wages or working conditions.  They know that earlier Unionists gave their lives -- even here in Canada -- to gain some rights for the workers.

They know that every right they now enjoy, every protective article in their collective agreement, every piece of labour legislation was obtained for them by dedicated Unionists, through untold effort and great sacrifice.  They know that others before them made those sacrifices, were fired from their jobs, black-listed for life, beaten up by company goons, ridden down by armed troops, imprisoned, deported and even killed.  Everything they now take for granted was paid for by others.  Because they know, they can never forget the debt which can never be repaid.

Real Trade Unionists will never be satisfied that everything possible has been accomplished, but if, on their deathbed, they can say, "I leave this world a somewhat better place for my fellow workers and part of that improvement was due to my small contribution," they can die in contentment.  There are many more union members than there are Trade Unionists.

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