Dissension and controversy marked his four years at the helm of the Ontario district of the Pittsburgh, Pa.-based United Steelworkers of America. But last week David Patterson began making plans to return to the Sudbury nickel mines where he had been employed for 14 years. Ontario steelworkers elected challenger Leo Gerard—backed by the international union’s strong central leadership—to head the 82,000-member district by an unofficial vote of 25,543 to 14,771. Patterson’s defeat represents a victory for the USWA’s leadership, which he defied during his 1981 campaign by pledging to champion the interests of rank-and-file members, and USWA officials quickly hailed Gerard’s victory as a return to unity. Said Canadian director Gérard Docquier, who last week easily won his third fouryear term: “We now have a united front for the first time in four years.” Patterson alienated the union establishment—and many members—last year when he refused to back Canadian Lynn Williams in his bitter strug-
gle to win the USWA presidency. And his support for Frank McKee, Williams’s American opponent in the race, backfired when McKee called Canadian steelworkers “second-class” and made American nationalism a central plank in his program. But the recession made Patterson’s difficulties worse. In fact, at one point during his term the union’s Canadian membership plummeted to less than 120,000 from more than 200,000, largely as a result of layoffs.
Patterson and Gerard share a common background: both began their labor careers as activists at Sudbury’s troubled Inco Ltd. nickel mine. But Patterson catapulted into the leadership from the presidency of the Inco local, bypassing the union’s traditional hierarchy. Gerard, by contrast, served for eight years in a number of USWA staff positions before his election to the $51,000-a-year post. The new leader has already attacked issues of concern to Canadians and last week criticized free trade with the United States, saying that it would lower workers’ living standards. With the end of the union’s leadership battles, Ontario steelworkers can now look forward to a new face—and a fresh approach.
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