THOUGHTS OF CHAIRMAN JACK

I talked with Big Jack Munro a few days before he died. It was pretty tough going. The big booming voice that had bellowed from the podiums of hundreds of meetings was down to a whisper. His legendary fire was just about spent. But some things had not changed. His endearing, infectious chuckle was still in place, despite the pain of his illness. And, 40 years after I first covered him for the Vancouver Sun, Jack was still calling me Rob.

As I write this, there’s a hard, blowing wind and a majestic full moon over Long Beach, where I am for the weekend. My thoughts on the long life and extraordinary times of Jack Munro are all a-jumble, trying to process the legacy of the most dominant labour leader this once-militant province ever had, and the multitude of different things he did during his wild, 82-year ride through life. (How many remember that Munro went to the Forbidden Kingdom  in 1974 with then Premier Dave Barrett and MacMillan Bloedel CEO Denis Timmis, trying to sell Maoist China on buying B.C. timber?  Crazy.)

I will write more about Jack Munro, and in particular his controversial role that dramatic Sunday night in Kelowna almost exactly 30 years ago, when Bill Bennett, the premier of the province, and Munro, a union man,  met face to face in the premier’s living room to hammer out an end to the very real threat of a general strike. It was as dramatic a moment as it gets, even in B.C., and  arguments still rage today about the pros and cons of their so-called Kelowna Accord.

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But for now, let’s hear from Jack Munro, himself. These observations by Brother Munro are from an interview I did with him just last August for a story on the relatively sad state of the B.C. labour movement. Whatever one’s thoughts on Jack Munro, and he was not “the good guy” on every issue, no one can deny his commitment to the cause of working people, and his genuine sorrow and anger at the decline of union influence. It’s all here.

Take it away, Jack.

MUNRO: Everybody delights in kicking the hell out of the labour movement. It’s having a tough time. Everybody’s struggling. The  world is somewhat upside down. I think we’ve lost some really important values. Too many people have forgotten that it was the labour movement that was able to bring about changes in our society, in our way of life, in our social consciousness.

But we’re no longer headed up, we’re headed down.  You listen to these commentators. Every damn thing that goes wrong, with wages and whatnot, they blame the workers. Cut the workers’ play, cut this, cut that, cut the benefits. If workers get money, they spend it. They buy things. They keep our economy going. And to drive the bloody people that keep it going down to the bottom is absolute insanity.

MUNRO: Society is a helluva lot worse without unions. Absolutely. But I don’t know what the hell’s happened. Maybe unions have been too acquiescent. They don’t get any awards for that. The economy is this and that, so they go a couple of years with no wage increase, or 1 and 2 per cent, and the bosses think that’s just great. So they concentrate even more on keeping wages down. They think, ah, we’ve got ‘em now. They pile on. It’s very frustrating for a guy like me, very frustrating.

MUNRO: Leading a strike is tough. When the IWA went on strike, all the staff went on strike pay, too. So we had the same hardship as the members. It’s emotional. You lie awake at night. You know people are hurting, but you can’t give up. If you give up, it’s going to be worse. You have to keep on.

MUNRO: We’re trying to get more worker-type history into the schools. Right now, there’s nothing teaching kids in school about how the hell we got here. Governments and entrepreneurs encouraged expansion and development. They opened the doors. Workers walked through and did a hell of a job, developing industries and systems and that sort of stuff. But nobody’s being taught that. So with our Labour Heritage Centre we are trying to remind people and society that workers have made an important contribution. If no one knows something, they don’t understand it. If unions don’t come back, society is in big trouble.

Amen, Brother. It’s hard to believe he’s gone.

My old colleague Doug Ward, like myself an ex-labour reporter who covered Jack Munro, has written a good synopsis of his  turbulent career.

And I am left with one last memory. As I hung up the phone this week from my final conversation with the big guy, Jack Munro made sure to remind me: “It’s been a good life, Rob.”

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5 thoughts on “THOUGHTS OF CHAIRMAN JACK

  1. Sorry Rod, but Jack is not someone to laud.
    Let’s not forget who & what Jack was…
    -He sold out the SOLIDARITY movement of the 80’s to the Socred Govt.
    -He sold out the IWA to MacBlo & Interfor
    -He was quoted as saying “If you see a spotted owl, shoot it”…. to translate: He advocated for the EXTINCTION OF A SPECIES, so that environmental destruction could continue unabated.
    -He advocated for clear-cutting of the last old growth rainforests on the planet
    -He only began advocating for higher stumpage fees AFTER the Claoquot protests had succeeded.
    -Many will say he protected jobs & worker safety…actually, the high intensity clearcut logging that Jack advocated for put workers at far greater risk than if he’d advocated for more sustainable practices, which would have created more jobs and for much farther into the future. He was an industry shill and eroded union power such that the IWA had no teeth whatsoever and became simply an extension of corporate interest. His legacy makes it impossible for forest workers to demand better from the industry without fearing the loss of their jobs. He was chairman of the Forest Alliance, for crying out loud – an industry PR firm. At least at that point, he was honest about whose mouthpiece he really was. It makes me ill that he will be held in such high esteem considering all of the damage that he did.

  2. Jack Munro can’t be blamed for the Kelowna Accord, weak tho it was. All strike leaders signed off on it, except for Art Kube, who was home sick. He can be blamed for his disparaging comments on lesbians and other minority groups who took part in the Solidarity Coalition. He also waged war on David Suzuki, hence his tongue-in-cheek comment on shooting spotted owls. It was hard for a guy leading a union of forestry workers to not want them to cut down trees. He wasn’t alone on that on “the left”. Remember Glen Clark calling Greenpeace “enemies of B.C.”? But thankfully, the environmentalists eventually won out, and Jack lost that one. So yes, he was not always on the right side of issues, especially in those days when many of them were new to someone who could still remember the hardship of the Depression and attitudes were different. Jack could also be a bit of a bully. He was a complicated guy, who was not always likeable. But right now, I choose to remember, mostly, the good side of Jack Munro, fighting for workers’ rights, fighting for unions, fighting the forest company bosses in some tough, tough strikes (224 days in the Interior, 5 months in 1986), and spending his final years on a quest to establish a Labour Heritage Centre. Good on you, Jack!

    • thank you rod for mentioning his hateful comments about us gays and lesbians. it was the first major coalition that we were able to take our seat along side many other reps.. as a result of jacks comments, many trade unionists came forward and raised our issues before their locals and at conventions and eventually we saw major changes in our society. jack was one member of history but he was never my leader.

    • It’s your Blog Rod, you can write as you wish. Thanks for allowing other points of view and for acknowledging their merit.

      Cheers

  3. Pingback: Collective Bargaining » Blog Archive » Rod Mickleburgh: THOUGHTS OF CHAIRMAN JACK

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