Honouring NB’s labour heroes

Written by David Frank on September 4, 2015

in Labour, New Brunswick - Comments Off on Honouring NB’s labour heroes
note - nb honour roll pic

TWO LABOUR VETERANS HONOURED: Val Ward (right) of Bathurst was a pioneer in the participation of women in organized labour in New Brunswick. Her name was added this year to the Honour Roll of the New Brunswick Federation of Labour. Also honoured was longshoreman Jimmy Orr (1936-2009), a longtime rank-and-file activist in the Saint John labour movement. His brother Robert accepted the award on his behalf. Photograph: Melissa Bellefeuille.

For their long years of service to organized labour in this province, two names were added to the Honour Roll of the New Brunswick Federation of Labour at their biennial convention this year.

Valentine Ward grew up in Bathurst, where she started work in her teens as a secretary for $105 a month. When the union boom was on in the mining districts of northern New Brunswick in the 1960s, she went to work for the United Steelworkers and joined the Office and Professional Employees’ Union, Local 343. The number of women in the local labour movement was small, and when she was elected Recording Secretary of the Bathurst and District Labour Council, recalled Federation secretary-treasurer John Gagnon, it was still illegal to serve women a drink at the Labour Temple. As a delegate to the Federation of Labour, Val helped to promote the participation of women in the union movement and served for several years as president of the Women’s Committee. After her retirement, she continued to be active among union retirees. “Thank goodness”, she told delegates, “I had a union job”.

Also added to the Honour Roll was the late James William Orr (1936-2009), a union veteran from Saint John who was a member of the Brotherhood of Railway and Steamship Clerks, Freight Handlers, Express and Station Employees and then of the International Longshoremen’s Association. He was a stalwart member of the Saint John and District Labour Council and a rank-and-file organizer for the campaign against wage controls in 1975-76 and the “No Candu” boycott of nuclear shipments to Argentina in 1979. Later he was the labour representative on the port commission. For “Jimmy” Orr, unionism was like a religion, recalled Pat Riley of the ILA. He remembered that when teachers asked Jimmy’s daughter her religion, she often answered “trade unionism.” In accepting the honour on his brother’s behalf, Robert Orr recalled him as “a fighter who loved every minute of it” and whose name was respected on waterfronts around the world.

David Frank is a labour historian at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton.

This story was originally published by Our Times.

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