Frank Kennedy, key ILWU Canada leader

Hundreds of longshore workers, family and community members gathered at the Maritime Center in Vancouver on Sunday, March 4 to honor the life of ILWU leader Frank Kennedy who passed on February 18.

ILWU Canada President Tom Dufresne was among the 18 speakers who recalled Kennedy’s dedication to helping members and building ILWU Canada.

“Frank was a man for all seasons because he worked so well with all kinds of people; longshore workers, young activists, pensioners and politicians,” said Dufresne who added that Kennedy’s long history of working with peace and social justice groups has left a gap that’s hard to fill. “If he were still with us, I’m sure he’d be helping young people in the Occupy movement learn how to work more effectively with unions.”

Kennedy’s longshore career began in 1951, when the Vancouver union was still affiliated with the ILA. He played a key role in moving members to affiliate with the ILWU, then helped consolidate many smaller Vancouver area locals into Local 500.

“Frank understood those changes would make our union stronger, and he was right,” recalled his good friend and fellow union leader Dave Lomas, who helped organize the memorial and recorded a four-hour interview with Kennedy several months before he died. “I learned a lot about labor history and the union movement during my 45 years on the waterfront, and I owe much of it to Frank,” he said.

“I was working but not involved with the union until Frank encouraged me and many others to get involved.”

Many speakers noted that Kennedy was a great mentor who excelled at training new leaders. Others pointed to Kennedy’s relaxed and calm demeanor – especially in times of crisis and conflict – that made him a popular person to consult during difficult times. He served in a wide variety of posts, including President of Local 500, Secretary-Treasurer of ILWU Canada, Trustee of the Pension and Welfare Plans, International Executive Board, Secretary-Treasurer of the Labour Council, and a founder of the political action program known as COPE.

In 1984 he helped organize a protest march against the arms race with nearly 100,000 participants, and he remained active in pensioner and retiree groups.

ILWU Secretary-Treasurer Willie Adams, who attended the Memorial on behalf of the ILWU Titled Officers, said “Frank was one of those rare and treasured leaders who don’t come often enough, but leave behind a rich legacy for us to learn from.”

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