Union activists mourn the loss of Ray Haynes, longtime leader of the BC labor movement
Ray Haynes, a man dubbed the “giant” of British Columbia’s labor movement, died Monday at the age of 94.
The news sparked a wave of condolences on social media for the man who has championed workers’ rights for over seven decades.
Former Labor reporter Rod Mickleburgh described Haynes as “arguably the most influential leader in the long history of the BC Fed.”
Haynes headed the BC Federation of Labor from 1966 to 1973, a tough period for unions as described by Mickleburgh.
“At the time, unions were in almost constant war, strike after strike, protests seemingly every day and an all-out struggle against some of the worst anti-union laws in North America,” he said at the 2022 BC Federation of Labor November Congress.
“Ray Haynes and the federation were everywhere.”
In November, Mickleburgh, the author of a book on BC labor history, described how the BC labor movement, led by Haynes, became “the most militant in the country” as it opposed the anti-union government of WAC Bennett’s Social Credit Party.
The federation’s current president believes Haynes’ leadership helped British Columbians elect the province’s first NDP government under Dave Barrett in 1972.
“It’s a huge achievement to go from so far down the spectrum [supporting the Opposition] on the other side of the political spectrum,” said Sussanne Skidmore. “These were really important times for working people, for change in our province.”
obliged to employees
Joey Hartman met Haynes while they both worked at the Vancouver Municipal and Regional Employees Union in the 1980s, when Haynes became the union’s chief negotiator.
“What I particularly remember as a much younger union leader at the time was his commitment to members and always seeing them as the focal point of what needed to happen,” she said.
“He worked incredibly hard and inspired people who didn’t think they had what it took to face their employer.”
Hartman, now a board member of the BC Labor Heritage Centre, says the center decided last November to honor Haynes at the 60th session of the Federation of Labour, one of his last public appearances, in which he displayed the charisma that made him a successful made union leaders.
He joked that when he left the association, “they had to hire two people to do my job: the president and the secretary-treasurer.”
“But I found out later that they had to do that to clean up the mess.”
When Haynes headed the association, he was Secretary and Treasurer before the role split into two.
Haynes also took the opportunity to offer advice to young workers.
“What I’m trying to do now is tell young people that just because it makes a little more money, don’t take a job that you’re not going to be happy with,” he said.
Solidarity across borders
Ray Haynes’ activism was not limited to the political arena or to British Columbia. His daughter Deb Niewerth says the family was recruited to take part in several protest movements.
“Obviously, growing up, I learned never to cross a picket line, and I never did,” she said. “We didn’t eat grapes from California for many years, and I never went to Safeway for many years to support causes that he fought for.”
In the 1970s, Haynes organized a boycott of non-union grapes in support of California farm workers.
Haynes was a regular at a poker table made up of “BC Fed guys” of his generation, his daughter says. She remembers spending time with him at the PNE horse track in East Vancouver, where her father would spend hours contemplating which horse to bet on, even though he was never a big gambler and spent every penny im kept an eye.
Niewerth says her father stood up for the people he cared about until the end of his life.
“He was just so good at maintaining friendships and staying in touch and sending birthday cards and Christmas cards to everyone,” she said. “Even this year he’s sent out over 100 Christmas cards to people.”