TORONTO, May 5, 2014 /CNW/ - Lynn Williams, one of North America's most influential and respected labour leaders of the 20th century, has died. Williams, 89, died today in Toronto.
Williams served as International President of the United Steelworkers (USW) from 1983 to 1994. He was the first Canadian labour leader elected president of a major international trade union.
"Lynn Williams dedicated his entire career to improving the lives of ordinary working people, driven by an unrelenting passion for social justice," said Ken Neumann, the USW's Canadian National Director.
"Steelworkers across the continent are mourning the passing of Lynn Williams," Neumann said. "But we are also celebrating the life of an exceptional labour leader whose legacy will be an inspiration for generations to come."
Williams led the Steelworkers union through one of its most difficult and turbulent periods, amidst dramatic industrial restructuring and upheaval in the 1980s and 1990s. He developed new bargaining techniques and played a leading role in the structural readjustment of the North American steel industry.
"Lynn Williams held this union together through the worst of times. Lynn showed that he was a leader of great compassion and ingenuity, securing deals to help save as much of the industry as possible while at the same time preserving pensions and benefits for workers," said USW International President Leo W. Gerard.
"Lynn Williams' gift was to bring people together and get the best ideas from everyone and then try to move us in a certain direction," said Gerard, who credits Williams as a role model over nearly four decades.
"Lynn served as a life-long mentor to me," he said. "Lynn taught me the value of patience, of keeping a clear head in the midst of chaos. We owe him much more than we can say."
"Lynn Williams is an icon to Steelworkers and to labour and progressive activists across our country," said Stephen Hunt, the USW's Western Canada Director. "He always led by example and set a remarkable standard that guides us all."
"Today we salute a tremendous labour leader who was a great friend and defender of Quebec," said USW Quebec Director Daniel Roy. "This is a sad day but it's also a moment that all activists can seize on for inspiration."
"Lynn Williams will continue to have a profound impact on the lives of working people," said Marty Warren, USW Director for Ontario and Atlantic Canada. "Future generations of activists and leaders in our union will be shaped by Lynn's enduring lessons - by organizing, by standing up for each other, by fighting for workers' rights and social justice, we can make a difference."
Lynn Russell Williams joined the Steelworkers in the late 1940s while working at the John Inglis factory in Toronto. He rose through the union's ranks and served more than two decades in elected positions on the USW's International Executive board, including Ontario Director and International Secretary. He was the first union leader to hold executive leadership roles with the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) and the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO).
During his tenure as USW International president, Williams founded the Steelworkers' Organization of Active Retirees (SOAR) to harness the power and influence of union pensioners. SOAR has grown into a force of labour, political and social justice activism in Canada and the U.S.
Williams was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2005. In 2007 the City of Toronto named a street in his honour, in the redeveloped former industrial neighbourhood where he began his career.
Williams' memoir, One Day Longer, was published in 2011 by the University of Toronto Press and Cornell University Press.
A private funeral service for Williams' immediate family is planned. A date will be announced in the near future for a memorial service for friends and the public.
SOURCE: United Steelworkers (USW)
For further information:
Ken Neumann, USW National Director, (416) 544-5951
Denis St. Pierre, USW Communications, 416-544-5990, 647-522-1630, [email protected]