By: Ron McKenzie, Trail BC – August 2012
“Our Union wasn’t formed by actions of one person and our Union can’t be sustained by the actions of one person. When we formed our Union in 1973 it was through the collective efforts of the Office and Technical employees. Our Union was formed to protect our members from discrimination, unsafe work practices, and to improve wages and benefits. Overall, I believe, our union has been very successful and we have all benefited as a result. However, times have changed substantially since then; the vast majority of our Union activists have retired or are about to retire. As a Union we are going through a critical transition period, its’ time for the next generation to decide if they are going to step up and learn how to work in a Union environment, or remain silent and watch the hard work of our predecessors erode.”
Chuck Macklon, President USW Local 9705 – Personal communication, 2012
This project of writing an article about the history of local 9705, began with an idea already formed of how it would turn out and why it needed to be written. When I started, I was planning to write a short article that would draw parallels between the events and environments of the past and the present; to remind people of what happened and hopefully, to prevent a return to a worse kind of lifestyle for everyone. I felt it needed to be done because I saw a move in the wrong direction happening in our workplaces and society in general; backwards to the conditions of the early 20th century that eventually sent the world into the great depression. My idea was that, the environment spurs a union into being and if people saw that the same environment that I do developing again then we could stop it before it gets too far.
However, as the project progressed I have learned a strong union doesn’t grow just because of the conditions around it, but instead it grows because of the people who are in it. By simply making the situations known so that someone else will do something about it, isn’t going to get at the real problem. That problem is; that most of us are waiting for, “someone better” or, “someone else” to tell us what to do and to fix things for us, rather than turning up to fix it for ourselves. We need to turn up in order to mold our situations the way we want them.
One of the ideals that every good union promotes is that everyone is equal in importance and that everyone can equally help to shape their union and workplace. Through the combinations of multiple minds and skill sets, there is no problem that can’t be overcome. However, to work in practice, this ideal requires people to step up and participate in whatever way they can. Some end up playing high profile roles and some go unnoticed, but all are equally important.
So, rather than focusing on the events or the environment in these articles, the focus should be on the people in our history and what they did to make our union great. The hope is that everyone reading this will realize that it doesn’t take “someone better” or “someone else” to make improvements. All that it takes is for us to work together, using our own strengths and to act when we find ourselves in the right place at the right time. We will be successful, we’ve done it before.
Watch the 9705 blog for a series of articles based on interviews with some of the people who experienced our history firsthand. The first of these are from an interview with Mr. Jim Saare, who was an instrumental part of the drive to organize our local and one of our first presidents. Remember, it’s our union. We can make it whatever we want it to be!