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"REU" 2003 Obituary


REUTHER 

REUTHER o@ca.on.york_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2003-10-15 published
Global advocate for workers' rights
His activism in Canada spanned three decades, but labour leader also brought his message of education and social justice to Europe, Russia and Latin America
By Allison LAWLOR, Special to The Globe and Mail, Wednesday, October 15, 2003 - Page R7
When Dan BENEDICT set out to work in the machine shop of an aircraft-engine factory in Lynn, Massachusetts., in the 1930s, his goal was to connect with the workers there. For the fresh university graduate, the move was a political statement and the beginning of what would become a lifetime spent advocating for workers' rights, education and greater social justice both in Canada and around the world.
"He was driven by his commitment to justice," said his son, Stephen BENEDICT, who is a member of Canadian Auto Workers Local 112 and director of the Canadian Labour Congress's international department. "He was almost single-minded about that. It was almost the only thing he cared about."
Last month at a Labour Day event in Ottawa, Daniel BENEDICT, a retired Canadian Auto Workers staff representative, was honoured for his pioneering efforts in the labour movement. That day he continued his advocacy work by giving an impassioned speech about future generations.
Afterward, a group of kids gathered around, eager to teach him the latest cool handshakes, Stephen BENEDICT said. "He was always more interested in talking about the future than the past," he said. "He would want to be remembered as someone who cared about the future."
On September 16, just four days before his 86th birthday, the outspoken advocate died in an Ottawa hospital. He had been diagnosed with both colon and liver cancer.
Mr. BENEDICT's lifelong work was recognized in October, 1998, when he was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada. Part of his citation reads: "He has devoted a lifetime to the labour movement. He has advised prominent international trade-union leaders in Canada, the United States and Europe, and represented labour on various panels and commissions sponsored by the United Nations' International Labour Organization."
But for the Canadian Auto Workers, his crowning achievement was the Paid Education Leave Program, which he developed and implemented in the late 1970s. (The union was then the United Auto Workers-Canada). The program is still considered the largest adult-education program for working people in Canada, according to the Canadian Auto Workers, and one that is admired by trade unions worldwide.
The program, which now offers courses one-to-four weeks in duration and covering topics such as collective bargaining, human rights and workplace reorganization, highlighted Mr. BENEDICT's belief that education is needed to allow workers to build skills that would then help them to create a more just society.
"He had an incredible respect for workers' intellect," said Bob WHITE/WHYTE, former president of the Canadian Auto Workers and the Canadian Labour Congress. "He was a great educationalist."
Born on September 20, 1917, in New York, Daniel BENEDICT was the only child of Blanche BENEDICT and Joseph KAISER, who worked as a salesman. Not long after he was born, his mother died of the Spanish flu and he was left to be raised largely by his grandmother (and he later took his mother's maiden name).
By the age of 14 he had enrolled in university, and later joked that his grandmother had sent him there while he was still in short pants. While in university, Mr. BENEDICT's social activism was awakened, and after graduation he went off to work in a Massachusetts factory that produced military aircraft engines.
On the plant floor, he was vocal and rallied for workers' rights. But when the war broke out, he left the factory and enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. He was sent overseas as a flight engineer and spent much of his four years of military service in Europe. It was on the Mediterranean island of Corsica at a ball held for the liberating troops that Mr. BENEDICT met his future wife, Micheline. In 1947, the couple married in Corsica, despite the pleadings of her father, who didn't want his daughter near any Americans.
Following the war, Mr. BENEDICT returned to Europe after being decommissioned, and spent four years working with Cooperative for American Relief Everywhere, Inc., the international humanitarian organization, helping Europeans recover from the devastating effects of the war.
He returned to the United States to work with labour leader Walter REUTHER at the Congress of Industrial Organizations, and then worked in Mexico with the regional organization of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions.
Mr. BENEDICT's career also took him to Brazil, where he worked for the International Metalworkers Federation, covering Latin America. He took part in worker education in the region and instructed union leaders on industrial relations. During the 1950s and 1960s, he also helped local unions devise strategies to deal with repressive military regimes in their countries.
Mr. White said.
He later became assistant general secretary of the International Metalworkers' Federation, and moved his family to Geneva, where he became a familiar figure as a labour representative on various panels and commissions sponsored by the United Nations' International Labour Organization.
"Dan was an outstanding international trade unionist," who was held in high regard both at home and around the world, Mr. WHITE/WHYTE said.
In the late 1970s, Dan BENEDICT moved to Canada and joined what was then the United Auto Workers-Canada, the forerunner to the Canadian Auto Workers. He soon became a Canadian citizen, and was a passionate defender of the country.
A love of linguistics and a desire to communicate with others translated into Mr. BENEDICT learning nearly a dozen languages, including French, Spanish and German, as well as some Finnish and Hungarian. Most recently, he was learning Russian and Mongolian.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, Mr. BENEDICT travelled to Russia, Belarus and Ukraine to help build independent trade unions. He had also been in Mongolia working with a union representing sheep herders.
A BENEDICT family story traces Mr. BENEDICT's gift for languages back to his childhood bout of jaundice. At the time, he wasn't allowed to read because he was told it would weaken his eyes so instead he was left to entertain himself with a stamp collection. Among his collection were some Russian stamps with which he taught himself the Cyrillic alphabet.
After retiring from the United Auto Workers-Canada in 1982, Mr. BENEDICT continued to travel the world and teach wherever the opportunity arose. Having earned a doctoral degree in economics from France's Grenoble University, he taught for a time in the sociology and political-science departments at York University in Toronto, and was affiliated with the industrial-relations departments at McMaster, Laval and Concordia universities.
As a senior citizen, he advocated for seniors' groups on a wide range of issues, from soaring drug costs to nursing-care cutbacks, and served as chair of the Ontario Coalition of Senior Citizens' Organizations. He frequently spoke at rallies and conferences and could often be found at peace marches or protests.
"He had a tremendous amount of energy," said Morris JESION, the coalition's executive director.
While in his early 80s, Mr. BENEDICT was still working on a history of auto workers in Canada. The endeavour resulted in reams of research material and a 3,000-page manuscript. The wealth of material is tucked away in stacks of boxes in the garage of his Ottawa home.
Mr. BENEDICT leaves his wife, Micheline, their two daughters, Marie-Blanche and Francesca, son Stephen and four grandchildren.

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