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Dick Martin
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About Dick Martin

In memory of a tireless health and safety advocate Dick Martin "Canadian pioneer for workplace health and safety"
Photo of Dick Martin
Dick Martin

Dick Martin, a CCOHS Governor, died of cancer in October 2001 at the age of 57. In the spring of 2002 the CCOHS Council of Governors established an occupational health and safety scholarship fund in his memory.

Dick Martin joined the CCOHS Council in its early days and returned again, ending his second term in 2000. He was instrumental in the establishment in 1984 of the Canadian National Day of Mourning, April 28, to honour workers killed or injured on the job. The Day of Mourning, timed with the country's first comprehensive workers' compensation legislation, is now recognized in 80 countries. Martin, born in southern Ontario, became a labour activist after he took a job in a nickel mine in Thompson, Manitoba. He once described the conditions as "appalling". Eventually, Martin became president of his steelworkers' local, which led to a six-year presidency of the Manitoba Federation of Labour. In 1982, he became the founding chairperson of the board of directors of the MFL Occupational Health Centre, the first of its kind in Canada.

Two years later, Martin was elected an Executive Vice-President of the Canadian Labour Congress and, in 1992, elected by acclamation as Secretary-Treasurer. "Dick will be remembered across the country and around the world for his fervour in advancing the cause of health and safety in the workplace and his strong-minded anti-poverty activism," said Nancy Riche, who succeeded Martin as Secretary-Treasurer. In 1997, he was elected president of the 43-million member Inter-American Regional Labour Organization (ORIT), the only English-speaking president in the organization since it was founded in 1949.


His Principles and Values*

Dick Martin was an outstanding personality and an extraordinary Canadian. He also had a set of principles and values that guided his work in the labour movement and Canadian society.

Dick Martin came to the labour movement with the core values that all trade unionist share. The dignity of labour means workers¬ rights and good working conditions such as a safe, clean, healthy and stress-free workplace. These are achieved by union workplace organization, activism at work and collective bargaining with the employer. Workers¬ ability to achieve their goals depended on political action aimed at good labour laws and safety standards.

One of Dick's major achievements in health and safety was to take a leading part in the establishment of April 28, the annual Day of Mourning for Workers Killed and Injured at Work as a national, then international, event. He also took a leading role as a Governor of Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) in promoting the Centre as Canada's major national organization for health and safety.

Dick's core values included this traditional approach but his principles were wider and deeper. He believed in unions that did far more than improve pay, benefits, rights, and working conditions. He saw unions as social as well as industrial organizations, which were active in the community, and which extended workplace activism to goals that benefited communities and then the wider society.

For instance, he saw pollution as something that poisoned workers; but the same pollution also poisoned the local community and the general environment. As an environmentalist, he saw pollution as a social evil that concerned us all and had to be tackled in ways that benefited both workers and their communities. He was a pioneer in believing that unions had to work for environmental protection but his particular contribution was to see workplace action and social action on pollution as two aspects of one and the same thing.

In doing so, he again led the labour movement to new horizons. The idea of "sustainable development" arose in the public consciousness during the 1990's. The concept then had a rough ride in society, partly because there was little agreement as to what sustainable development meant and entailed, partly because it became a cliche, partly because the idea was coopted by parties who had no interest at all in sustainable development, no interest in social change. But dick grasped that the idea meant a new society in which economic development, environmental protection and social justice were all to be part of a single program - and that labour had a key part to play in all these aspects of sustainable development. He was a far-sighted advocate of what has become a mainstream progressive movement.

Canada has much to thank Dick Martin for, not only for what he achieved but also for what he stood for.

* Provided by the Canadian Labour Congress

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