Tribute to CS Jackson
Turk, Jim, Canadian Dimension
One of Canada's most influential labour leaders died quietly and un-noticed in Winnipeg this summer. President of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of Canada (UE) for 43 years, C.S. Jackson was effectively leader of the Left opposition with the Canadian labour movement for several decades.
Never one to suffer fools gladly, Jackson was a tough, pragmatic leader who delighted in challenging his friends and foes alike. For friends in the labour movement, Jackson was a difficult ally whose quick mind and acerbic tongue let only the brave and equally tough get dose. For foes, Jackson was a villain they could not defeat.
Jackson's background was atypical for an industrial union leader. Born of middle class parents in Fort William, Jackson's father served as mayor of that community for years. Jackson was a precocious child whose run-ins with teachers grew with his boredom in school. He and formal school had a mutual parting of the ways when he was about 14.
Taking odd jobs in the bush, Jackson spent his spare time in the town library reading anything and everything. Along the way, he picked up some bookkeeping skills which he parleyed into jobs in Montreal and Toronto.
Jackson found, in the Communist Party of the 30s, people who engaged him intellectually and who were at the cutting edge of the workers' movement. Soon Jackson quit his accounting jobs and, along with Dick Steele, started signing up workers into the CIO. By 1937, Jackson had signed many workers in the General Electric plants in the west end of Toronto and, through a contact in Brockville, had met and signed most of the workers in the Phillips Cable plant in that community.
The United Electrical workers rewarded Jackson by making him head of their fledgling operations in Canada. Jackson pressed UE to recognize the autonomy of its Canadian operations which they largely did.
Jackson's continuing relations with the Communist Party were not so warm. Dismissive of much of the Party's leadership, Jackson maintained his connections with the Party but made clear he would tolerate no interference with the operation of UE.
UE prospered during the Second World War. But when the cold war began to heat up, UE became a target. Organizers were hired by opposing unions to help form "right-wing caucuses" in UE with the goal of ousting Jackson and his supporters. …