Labour leader Leo Gerard honoured with new legacy fund at Laurentian
SUDBURY -- Labour studies students at Laurentian University will soon have another reason to know the name, Leo Gerard.
A legacy fund that includes multiple scholarships and a lecture series will now use his name to honour the former labour leader and his Sudbury roots.
"It's a humbling experience, especially when I think about my background," said Gerard, who is now retired.
"I spent a long time trying to get myself demoted so I could be steady days at Inco and I could go to school at night, I wanted to be an economist. The union gave me an offer for a job and I wasn't able to finish the work on my degree to be an economist which is probably a good thing."
The announcement was made in the hall on Brady Street, which has also been named in Gerard's honour.
Labour studies professor at Laurentian University John Peters helped to get the ball rolling.
"It's great to honour Leo Gerard, who is one of Sudbury's most active and well-renowned labour union leaders, so I think it was a really nice gesture for that…but I think for our labour studies program, and our labour community, it was important to have a fund to show what Leo can leave behind," said Peters.
Multiple scholarships will be handed out every year and Peters anticipates the lecture series will be held every two years.
"There are so many things that really state the importance of why we need to have unions, where it's more workplace accidents or an increasing number of deaths on the job, increasing inequality…where people are paid peanuts. What we need are good labour laws and organizations like unions and labour movements that are going to stand up for people."
Gerard was the face of Steelworkers Local 6500 for years and led the members through Vale's longest-ever strike in 2010.
He thanked the members profusely for the honour bestowed on him at the hall on Thursday and remembered past accomplishments, like helping a politically persecuted labour activist hide in Canada.
"I'm most proud of the role the union has played in the development of the growth of the university, the growth of the city, the high quality of education that we have, the high quality of health care that we have," said Gerard.
"Except for the hospital not being big enough and that could be a challenge that we take on again."
Gerard adds he's proud of the people who are now doing the work he used to do. He told CTV News they are doing the job at the same level he did, if not better.
"One of the things for me and it was mentioned a bit today, was the work Leo has done globally. We know it's a global economy, we know some of these huge multi-national companies and the only way that working people can push back and protect what they got…is linking hands with unions across the world," said United Steelworkers District 6 Director, Marty Warren.
United Steelworkers National Director Ken Neumann says, with Gerard, what you see is what you get.
"He can tell it the way it is, I've been in many high-profile meetings and he doesn't mince his words, if he wants to tell someone what he really thinks he does it…and has that ability to get away with it, the average person I find wouldn't be able to muster it the way he does," said Neumann.
"I get to travel around a fair bit and no matter where you go, people know about Leo Gerard because I truly believe Leo has been one of the greatest labour leaders in North America, if not the world."