Steelworkers across the continent today are mourning the passing of Lynn Williams. One of North America’s most influential and respected labour leaders of the 20th century, Williams, 89, died Sunday in Toronto.
Williams served as International President of the United Steelworkers (USW) from 1983 to 1994. He was the first Canadian labour leader elected president of a major international trade union. He led the Steelworkers union through one of its most difficult and turbulent periods, amidst dramatic industrial restructuring and upheaval in the 1980s and 1990s. He developed new bargaining techniques and played a leading role in the structural readjustment of the North American steel industry.
Lynn Russell Williams joined the Steelworkers in the late 1940s while working at the John Inglis factory in Toronto. He rose through the union’s ranks and served more than two decades in elected positions on the USW’s International Executive board, including Ontario Director and International Secretary. He was the first union leader to hold executive leadership roles with the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) and the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO).
During his tenure as USW International president, Williams founded the Steelworkers’ Organization of Active Retirees (SOAR) to harness the power and influence of union pensioners. SOAR has grown into a force of labour, political and social justice activism in Canada and the U.S.
Williams was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2005. In 2007 the City of Toronto named a street in his honour, in the redeveloped former industrial neighbourhood where he began his career.
A private funeral service for Williams’ immediate family is planned. A date will be announced in the near future for a memorial service for friends, union members and the public.