Stan Little First National President of CUPE

Carly Whittaker

Leaders in society are the people who step up and persevere in the face of challenges. They cease to crumble under pressure but instead excel amid tension. Leaders often fight for something they believe in not only for their own benefit but also for the prosperity of many others. Stan Little, the first national president of CUPE, was one of those such leaders. Little led CUPE for twelve incredible years. His ability to advocate and create change shone in this position as, under his guidance, CUPE grew from 78,000 to 210,000 members to become Canada's largest union (CUPE FastFax, 2000). Stan Little was a national leader and a forceful advocate whose work in the area of public employee rights has had a heroic affect on the lives of jobholders all over Canada.

Stan Little, born in 1911, started out as a factory and supermarket worker. He was later a hydro worker, first in Local One in Toronto and then in Local Eight in York Township. In 1951, he became a full time union representative for the National Union of Public Service Employees (CUPE History, 2000). A great deal of transformation took place while he was working with this union. In April of 1956 the National Union of Public Service Employees (NUPSE) approached the new Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) with hopes of forming a partnership. The Canadian Labour Congress was actually a merger of two former labour congresses, the TLC and the Canadian Congress of Labour (CCL). This already joint union, the CLC, eventually agreed to merge with NUPSE. The two organizations met together as one big union for the first time on July 18, 1956.

Stan Little's first big leadership role involved working with the joint union of NUPSE and CLC. In 1961, he was elected the full-time paid president of the National Union of Public Service Employees (CUPE History, 2000). Stan Little was a dynamic organizer and passionate leader. He truly wanted to make the union as beneficial as possible for employees. Although NUPSE was already a large union, Little possessed a goal to create an even bigger union for all public sector workers. Stan Little knew that there was power in numbers and, obviously, power was an important element in the strength of a union.

The National Union of Public Employees (NUPE) was the key organization that Little envisioned a partnership with. A merger, however, would not be an easy task. After World War II, the economic boom created competition among unions (CUPE - Public Relations, 1988). NUPE was in direct rivalry with NUPSE, Stan Little's union. Despite this competition, Little still believed the two unions could unite for the betterment of all. After several years of weighty merger discussions, members of NUPE and NUPSE gathered in Winnipeg to come to a final consensus. On September 24, 1963, the Canadian Union of Public Service Employees was launched (CUPE - Public Relations, 1988). Almost 80,000 members from approximately 500 locals were represented by this new union (CUPE History, 2000). NUPSE brought 30,000 members, while the other 50,000 were members of NUPE. With 30 years experience in the union movement, Stan Little was elected to a four-year term as national president. The former director of NUPE, Bob Rintoul, became CUPE's first secretary treasurer. Ottawa was decided upon as the headquarters of this new union.

When it was formed, CUPE was the second largest union in Canada. The largest union at the time was the United Steelworkers of America. In a telegram congratulating the new CUPE organization, the United Steelworkers of America told Stan Little and his executive, "CUPE has a big and challenging task - to extend the concept of unionism and the benefits of collective bargaining to all public employees. Even if that means they outstrip us some day as Canada's largest union, we wish them well" (CUPE - Public Relations, 1988).

The United Steelworkers of America were right. Stan Little's new union, CUPE, was destined to face many challenging tasks. While attempting to create a union that encompassed all public employees, Little encountered issues that tested his substance as a leader. In every case, however, Stan Little tackled the challenging problems with a strong plan and a fighting spirit. In the 1970's the Government created many stressors and problems for Little. For example, members of CUPE who worked for public utilities and hospitals were being systematically stripped of their right-to-strike (CUPE - Public Relations, 1988). Stan Little had to come up with a strategy to counter this government law against strikes in "essential" services. During 1973, CUPE's tenth anniversary, Stan Little formulated "A Plan to Keep Our Union Strong". This project involved nine-hundred representatives who met for five days in Montreal to address many important issues, such as the government law affecting public utility and hospital workers. Little's forceful administrative plan helped CUPE to stay stable in a time when the government's laws were apposing the union's objectives.

Another critical issue faced by CUPE while under Little's leadership was inflation. In 1975, prices and Income Commission was replaced by Pierre Trudeau's Anti-Inflation Board. Stan Little was considerably dissatisfied with this new system. He was quoted as saying, "Wage controls are the War Measures Act of 1975. The policy announced by Mr. Trudeau makes the public employee front-line cannon fodder in what will surely be a phoney war on inflation. The only thing that won't be phoney will be the victims of wage control mechanisms" (CUPE - Public Relations, 1988). This quotation provides an example of Stan Little's ability to speak his mind and stand up for both his own and the union's beliefs. Even if it meant going against the government of the time, Little showed leadership by voicing his own opinion.

It is not hard to see by the above examples that Stan Little led with vision and dedication, two immensely important qualities. As the former national secretary-treasurer, Kealey Cummings, said, "He [Little] was a man who would make things happen. Stan would make accommodations. He wasn't flexible without principle, but he would organize and seek compromises to reach a good end" (CUPE History, 2000). Little strived to obtain his objectives but never at the expense of others. Some of his earlier colleagues, say Little was plain-spoken, blunt and able to stare down a truck on a picket line. These same colleagues, however, also say he was able to put on a softer face when it came time to mend fences and move on (CUPE History, 2000).

Stan Little was not only dedicated, he was also organized. He said himself going into his second year as president that "[CUPE's] major task will be more organizing. This [was] important because unorganized public employees represent a danger to the standards of those already organized" (CUPE - Public Relations, 1988). Little enforced this organization through projects to deal with specific issues and yearly conferences. Organization, along with dedication and vision, were just a few of the qualities Stan Little incorporated into the way he led.

His style of leadership helped Stan Little accomplished a great deal while president of CUPE. The most obvious accomplishment is the growth of the union itself, from 78, 000 members to 210, 000 members. Because of the inflation that was common in the 1960's and 70's and because unemployment was low, being a union member meant better wages (CUPE - Public Relations, 1988). CUPE was also able to negotiate longer paid vacations, good pensions, and extended health care benefits to its members. These attractive incentives helped to make the advantages of union membership more obvious to public employees. CUPE was also able to attract a great deal of women to the union with promises such as better day care and better maternity leave provisions. In 1968, the union was actually composed of one-third female members (CUPE - Public Relations, 1988). The conditions negotiated by Stan Little and his board helped to attract thousands of jobholders, including many females, to join the Canadian Union of Public Employees. In addition to increasing the CUPE membership, Little advocated change in a variety of situations. In 1966, he helped to win the right to represent 9,000 Hydro workers in Quebec. These workers were interested in higher wages, better working conditions, and province-wide parity for office and technical employees. CUPE led the Hydro workers through six weeks of rotating strikes across the province. Unionists across the country admired not only CUPE's ability to win this strike but also their functional use of the rotating strike, a strategy new to most other provinces (CUPE - Public Relations, 1988). As president of CUPE during this Hydro employee strike, Stan Little showed both practicality and innovation.

In confirmation of his superior capacity as a leader, Stan Little was re-elected president in 1967, 1969, 1971, and 1973. After directing CUPE through many oppressive obstacles, it finally came time for Little to retire in 1975. At the age of 64, Stan Little had been president of CUPE for 12 years. In January of 1975 he announced that he would resign just before that fall's national convention. By the time Little retired, CUPE had surpassed the Steelworkers to become the biggest union in Canada. Grace Hartman, who served as national secretary-treasurer with Little, became the next national president of this now very large organization. As the new leader, Hartman was challenged to maintain the momentum which Stan Little had created. Little had constructed a very solid foundation for CUPE to build upon.

Although he was no longer president of the Canadian Union of Public Service Employees, Stan Little was still very involved as an advocate for workers' rights. In retirement he served as a worker representative on the board of the CNR and continued to attend union conferences. In a 1981 interview Little declared, "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" (CUPE FastFax, 2000). Stan Little was passionate about the progress made by the union. He wanted to ensure that the next generation of union members would stand up for their rights just as strongly as he had. After retirement, Little was seen at many of the yearly CUPE conventions. He shared the spotlight with Grace Hartman as they both made appearances at the 1987 National Conference in Quebec City. Many CUPE members saw Little at the 1997 National Convention in Toronto (CUPE FastFax, 2000). By 1999, however, he was suffering with cancer and was unable to attend the convention in Montreal.

On Monday May 15th, 2000 Stan Little died at the age of 89. Little was succeeded by his spouse Flo, age 65, as well as his son Terry and his daughter Donna. At a commemorative ceremony on June 21st, 2000, CUPE's national building at 21 Florence Street was named after Stan Little. The national president at the time, Judy Darcy, stated, "It is no exaggeration to say that the lives of hundreds of thousands of public employees are better today because of Stan Little... CUPE is better today because of the big shoes that Stan Little left behind for us to fill" (CUPE History, 2000).

Stan Little's work as a national leader and forceful advocate has had a heroic affect in the area of public employee rights all over Canada. As Judy Darcy's statement implies, even though he his gone, Little's influence can still be greatly felt today. The progress he helped to make while president of CUPE was not in vain. Although he did not live to see all the benefits of his tireless commitment and dedication, Little's goals for better working conditions are now being realized by unionists everywhere. Today CUPE is still Canada's largest union with over 460,000 members coast to coast (Our History, 2004). Stan Little's battle for public employee rights, which was fought with the perseverance of a true leader, has changed and continues to influence the workplace for employees all over Canada.