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Stan Little, National President, 1963-1975

Aug 31, 2000 12:00 AM
 
He led us from collective begging to collective bargaining

Those who knew him well will remember Stan Little, who died on May 15 at 89, as a champion of public employee rights and the national leader who took CUPE members from “collective begging to collective bargaining.”

CUPE’s first national president will also be remembered as a forceful advocate of one big union for the public sector in Canada. He didn’t live to see that dream realized, but Stan’s hard work and his tireless dedication created the solid foundation on which future generations of CUPE members continue to build.

“It is no exaggeration to say that the lives of hundreds of thousands of public employees are better today because of Stan Little,” National President Judy Darcy said at a commemorative ceremony on June 21 as CUPE’s national building at 21 Florence Street was named after Stan. “And CUPE is better today because of the big shoes that Stan Little left behind for us to fill.”

Stan’s early colleagues say he could be gruff; he was plain-spoken and blunt; he could wield a mean gavel; and he was not always popular for his decisions. They also say he could stare down a truck on a picket line; he could pound the table with the best of them; but he could also put on a softer face when it was time to mend fences and move on.

“He was a man who would make things happen,” said former national secretary-treasurer Kealey Cummings, a piece of CUPE history in his own right. “Stan would make accommodations. He wasn’t flexible without principle, but he would organize and seek compromises to reach a good end.”

Little had worked as a factory worker, a supermarket worker and hydro worker in Local One in Toronto and Local 8 in York Township before becoming a full-time union representative for the National Union of Public Service Employees in 1951. Ten years later Stan was NUPSE’s full-time paid president.

On September 24, 1963, NUPSE merged with the National Union of Public Employees (NUPE) to form CUPE with 78,000 members in 483 locals. Stan became our first national president with more than 30 years of experience as a trade unionist. He served a four-year term, then was re-elected in 1967, 1969, 1971 and 1973.

From 1967 to 1975, Grace Hartman served as national secretary-treasurer with Little, succeeding him as national president.

Susan Crean in her book on Hartman notes that “Stan Little had made a reputation for himself, summed up by [Globe labour columnist] Wilfred List as ‘annoying other union leaders by championing the right of the public employees unions to a greater role in the CLC, elbowing for wider jurisdiction for CUPE, and raising his voice on behalf of greater autonomy for Canadian sections of international unions’.”

When Stan retired in 1975, CUPE had surpassed the Steelworkers to become the biggest union in Canada with 210,000 members.

In 1981, he told the Public Employee, a forerunner to Organize: “We must never stop telling our members the benefits they’ve gained through unionization…We can’t let today’s unionists forget the battles of the past.” He also advised that “Unions must continue to change with the times. We must become more sophisticated – in all aspects of trade unionism.”

At the commemorative ceremony Darcy paid tribute in this way:

“We celebrate his life-long commitment to gaining dignity and respect for public service workers. We celebrate the stubborness of spirit that said: ‘ Come hell or high water, we’re going to do what we set out to do – and nothing or nobody is going to stand in our way. ’ ”

“Stan Little gave the best years of his life to the working men and women of CUPE. And for that we are forever grateful. You lived a life of struggle Stan. We pray that you rest in peace.”

Stan leaves his spouse of 65 years, Flo, and two children, son Terry and daughter Donna.

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