The Officers and Executive Board members of the USW International took their oaths of office for new four-year terms March 1 in Toronto, Canada.
President Leo W. Gerard was sworn in by retired International President Lynn Williams, the first Canadian to lead the USW, and John Fera, president of Local 6500 in Sudbury, Ontario, Gerard’s home town.
The audience included hundreds of Canadian members in labor disputes, including representatives of Local 6500, now in the midst of a seven-month strike against Vale Inco, a Brazilian-owned mining giant.
Gerard, the seventh International President, was appointed to replace George Becker 2001 and has been returned to office by the membership every four years since then.
In his speech, Gerard praised the union’s membership and said it is their strength, activism and undying spirit that will see the union through the “Great Recession” that has driven the global economy into a ditch.
“When you come down to it, we’re going to survive this latest disaster and return to fight another day, because it’s what this union does,” Gerard said. “We survive what few could endure because we choose to fight.”
Ken Neumann, National Director of Canada, was the master of ceremonies. The Canadian National Anthem was sung by Joy Klopp of the Canadian National Office. The American National Anthem was sung by Ann English, daughter of retired Secretary-Treasurer Jim English.
Guest speakers included Toronto Mayor David Miller; Jack Layton, leader of Canada’s Federal New Democratic Party; Andrea Horwath, leader of the Ontario New Democratic Party; Greater Sudbury Mayor John Rodriquez, and Ken Georgetti, a Steelworker and president of the Canadian Labour Congress.
Miller, a progressive, praised the USW for its efforts to create jobs of the future, which he said Toronto is doing by building a new rapid transit system with union labor.
“We should never shy away from the idea that when we’re spending public money, money that comes out of people’s taxes, they have the right to say it’s going to be invested in our economy for our jobs and built by union members,” Miller said.
Layton praised the Steelworkers for leading the way towards building an international union response to multinational corporations that try to pit workers against each other.
“It’s time for a newer and stronger brotherhood and sisterhood of workers around the world,’’ Layton said.
Greater Sudbury Mayor John Rodriguez said the USW must stand up to the multinational financial systems that have destroyed jobs and the livelihoods of millions of workers.
“Now, more than ever, unions are essential to the workers of the world,” Rodriquez said to applause, “not only to protect the gains made at the bargaining table, but also for holding governments and the world’s financial systems accountable.”