Canadian labour legend Leo Gerard on the past, present and future of unions – Interview by Michael Enright (CBC Radio – Sunday Edition – November 22, 2019)

Leo Gerard was 11 years old when he handed out his first union leaflets. That was in 1958, and he was living in Sudbury, 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 labour 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 held for 18 years.

Gerard spoke to The Sunday Edition’s Michael Enright about his life in the labour movement and the future of unions in an age of globalized trade, a collapsing manufacturing sector and precarious employment.

What was it like growing up in Sudbury in those days, in a mining family and a mining town?

The thing that has stayed with me the most from my time in Lively, just outside of Sudbury, was we had an Inco clinic, run by the company doctors and nurses. When my younger brother was feeling ill, my mom called the clinic and said that she was going to send me over to get some medicine.

When I walked in, I saw three miners sitting on the bench and they were coughing and hacking. One of them went to the window and got his bottle and his envelope. Then I got called up and I went up and got my bottle and my envelope. That was homemade cough medicine that they gave us.

For the rest of this radio interview: