Known for his independent views, militant tactics and progressive outlook that favored social justice for all workers, Bob White died on February 20 at the age of 81. White was mourned by union members across Canada and hailed as a “giant of the Canadian labor movement.”
White emigrated with his family from Ireland to Canada at the age of 13 and went to work in a factory at the age of 15 where he quickly experienced his first strike. Two years later he was elected a Steward, and led a strike of 500 workers at the age of 22.
Elected to leadership positions within the U.S. – based United Auto Workers, he led a successful break-away effort that created the Canadian Auto Workers union (CAW) in 1985. White was elected President for three terms before becoming President of the Canadian Labour Congress. White was a bitter foe of contract concessions, the NAFTA Free Trade Agreement and U.S. military expansion.
He pushed hard for social service funding, while also backing organizing campaigns and affiliations that helped the CAW expand, eventually merging with Canada’s Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union in 2013 to form a new union called Unifor which describes itself as “a new kind of union that advocates on behalf of all working people – employed or unemployed – across the country.”
“Bob was a true unionist who spoke what he believed,” said ILWU Canada President Rob Ashcroft, “including the principle that workers should belong to the union of their choice. White honored his word by seeing that Local 400 members joined the ILWU’s ranks after a merger could have put them into the Canadian Auto Workers. This was just one example of Brother White’s integrity that made him such an exceptional leader.”