United Steelworkers: District 3 News https://www.usw.org/districts/rss/3 United Steelworkers: District 3 News en-us info@usw.org webmaster@usw.org 40 Friends, Family, Union Brothers and Sisters Commemorate Former USW International President Lynn Williams https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2014/friends-family-union-brothers-and-sisters-commemorate-former-usw-international-president-lynn-williams Mon, 23 Jun 2014 12:50:00 -0600 https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2014/friends-family-union-brothers-and-sisters-commemorate-former-usw-international-president-lynn-williams More than 400 friends, family members, admirers and mentees of the late USW International President Lynn R. Williams gathered Saturday in a meeting room at a USW-represented hotel in Toronto to honor his life and legacy.

Williams’ devotees, American and Canadian, rank-and-file and elected leaders, regaled each other with personal stories of the first Canadian to lead the United Steelworkers union as they filled the room at the Westin Bristol Place. Mr. Williams died May 5 in Toronto at age 89.

USW International President Leo W. Gerard told the crowd that Williams was his mentor. “I am honored and privileged and humbled to have been carried for most of my career by Lynn Williams.”

It is, Gerard said, the responsibility of current USW members to carry out Williams’ vision for the union. “His legacy is that he changed the union from what it was to what it is, and he showed us what it could be.”

Gerard said Williams’ union “is an instrument of social and economic justice, not just a collective bargaining slot machine. No challenge was too big that he wouldn’t encourage us to take on. That is engrained in the union. That is part of the union’s culture now, part of its values.”

Speakers described Williams as a principled man of vision, one who inspired with great oration, but one who also knew how to listen in a way that made the speaker know that Williams heard and valued every word.

Carl Frankel, former USW International general counsel, said Williams not only led but also inspired. “The pronoun ‘I’ escaped his vocabulary,” Frankel said. “It was ‘we.’ In all his decision-making processes, he involved a team. He welcomed other ideas and dissent. And some of the leading dissenters are here in this room today.”

Ken Georgetti, former president of the Canadian Labor Congress, said of Williams, “He would always put his hand behind your back and hold you up. He wouldn’t push you.”

Gerard said Williams viewed the world through rose-colored glasses. This was a crucial attribute because he took the helm of the USW in 1983, a time when dumped steel was devastating the industry and hundreds of thousands of jobs were disappearing. His resolute belief that smart, concerted action by workers would improve all of their lives inspired optimism and positive action at times when pessimism and defeatism would have been the easier course. 

Gerard announced two enduring commemorations for Williams sponsored by the USW. One will be a scholarship for a working-class student at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario. In the 1960s when Williams was assistant to the USW Ontario director, he served as labor representative on the Brock University Founders Committee and led a successful campaign to persuade Niagara area union members to pledge one day’s pay for five years to launch the school.

In addition, the USW will create an endowment at the University of Toronto for what will be called the Annual Sefton-Williams Memorial Lecture. The current lecture is named for Williams’ mentor Larry Sefton, who directed USW District 6 for two decades and served as the first secretary-treasurer of the Ontario Federation of Labor. 

Williams’ wife preceded him in death, but all four of his children attended the commemoration. Two of them, Brian and Barbara, spoke. Also, one of his grandchildren, Evan Williams, read excerpts from Williams’ book, “One Day Longer.”

Brian told the assembly that when his father became International President and the family moved to Pittsburgh, people recognized him.

“People would walk up to him on the street in Pittsburgh and say thank you and turn to me and say, ‘You are a very lucky young man to have him as a father.’”

Brian Williams, who works for the United Nations, said that even in Rwanda, where Brian met his wife, the head of the nation’s labor federation said to him, “Lynn Williams, the Lynn Williams? Why I know him!”

In 2005 when Williams was 81 and weakened by Parkinson’s, he visited Brian and his family in Myanmar for six days. He didn’t want to see beaches or temples, Brian recounted, “he wanted to meet people living under military dictatorship. More than six days, and he would have started organizing.”

After Williams’ wife died, he moved back to Toronto, and frequently visited the offices of the Steelworkers Toronto Area Council and spoke at its events. Carolyn Egan, council president, said Williams would sit among members chatting and listening. “Members said there was always something new to learn from Lynn Williams,” she recounted.

Williams’ daughter Barbara thanked the union, and particularly Canadian National Director Ken Neumann. “I am thankful and amazed at how caring and faithful his union family has been, especially Ken Neumann who was a constant and extremely helpful to him over the past few years,” she said.

Neumann said he learned something every time he visited Williams. “Lynn would share his expertise and his love for this union, and I was the benefactor of that.”

Gerard said one time when he visited Williams in the nursing home, Lynn whispered to him to close the door. “He said, ‘I think there is somebody trying to organize here. Is it us?’”

Williams was, Gerard said, organizing to the very end.

Concluding the memorial was, Jani Lauzon, singer, songwriter and actress. A member of the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA), Lauzon led the group in the song Williams liked to end every meeting with: “Solidarity Forever.”

Among those who attended to honor Williams were Napoleon Gomez Urrutia, president of the Mexican mineworkers’ union, Los Mineros; Hassan Yussuff, president of the Canadian Labor Congress (CLC); Paul Moist, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and Jeff Rose, former CUPE president; Andrea Horwath, leader of the Ontario New Democratic Party (NDP); Peter Tabuns, member of Provincial Parliament for Toronto Danforth; Olivia Chow, Toronto mayoral candidate, widow of former NDP leader Jack Layton and former NDP member of Parliament; Ruth Anna Grier, a former NDP member of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario; Ferne Downey, National President of ACTRA; Dave Ritchie, general vice president of the International Association of Machinists, Canada; Gord Wilson, former president of the Ontario Federation of Labor; David Sparrow, president of ACTRA, Toronto; former USW Secretary-Treasurer Jim English; and Harry Hynd and Dave Patterson, both former directors of USW District 6.