Leo Gerard, retired president of United Steel Workers: ‘No one believed more in workers’ – by David Shribman (Globe and Mail – September 2, 2019)


Canadian labour activist Leo Gerard recently retired after 18 years as international president of the United Steel Workers (USW) – the largest industrial union in North America. The onetime smelter worker devoted his career to battling the wealth gap.

Mr. Gerard faced numerous headwinds as a labour leader. He has grappled with declining rates of union membership. He has taken on leaders of both U.S. political parties, whose free-trade orthodoxy collided with his members’ concerns about imports of steel and other products. And he has struggled with members of his own union who have little in common culturally with U.S. President Donald Trump, but are nonetheless drawn to the Manhattan tycoon because of his populist approach and his nationalistic rhetoric.

The discord roiled Mr. Gerard’s union and placed him in a difficult political position. He argued just after the Trump triumph that the new President was elected “by stealing our agenda.”

But he found much of the Trump program – tax cuts that benefitted the rich, an assault on the Obamacare health-care program, the appointment of anti-labour officials throughout the new Cabinet – distasteful. And yet, he was photographed with Mr. Trump at the White House and praised the President for sending “a signal that he’s going to help us get a level playing field” with the Chinese steel industry.

Mr. Gerard earned respect from business leaders. James Rohr, the former chair and chief executive of PNC Financial Services Group, one of America’s top 10 banks, describes Mr. Gerard as “a unique man with a global and local perspective.”

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