Unifor’s anti-apartheid legacy recognized with award from South African government

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a man and a women wearing an award around their necks

Unifor’s commitment to social justice and international solidarity has been recognized on a global stage. Labour union activists Ken Luckhardt and Brenda Wall, received the Order of the Companions of O.R. Tambo award on April 30, 2024 from the South African government for their pivotal role in the anti-apartheid movement.

“This award is a powerful reminder of the impact that collective action and solidarity can have in the fight for justice,” said Unifor National President Lana Payne. “It is a tribute to everyone within our union and the broader public who stood up against apartheid and a call to continue our efforts against oppression in all its forms. I want to congratulate and thank both Ken and Brenda for all their efforts.”

The apartheid era in South Africa refers to the period of deep institutionalized racial segregation in the country, and the policies of social, economic and political discrimination introduced by the ruling all-White National Party, starting in 1948 and lasting into the early 1990s.

This award highlights the historical work and enduring impact of Canadian labour in the fight against apartheid, and how the CAW was instrumental in mobilizing support against the oppressive regime in South Africa. The union’s involvement ranged from organizing boycotts of South African products to providing financial and logistical support to the anti-apartheid movement.

Former CAW President Bob White was integral to Canada’s anti-apartheid movement. Recognizing the significant role trade unions played in fighting Apartheid in South Africa, he led the charge for change on behalf of the Canadian labour movement, becoming an outspoken advocate for boycotts and solidarity for the South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU), among others. Recorded messages of solidarity from Bob were played in South African train stations, encouraging workers to stay strong in the face of adversity and pledging Canadian support.

“We knew that every action we took, from boycotting South African goods to supporting local strikes, was a step towards dismantling a system of racial oppression,” said Ken Luckhardt, former CAW Director of PEL and International Department Staff Representative. “It was about more than just economic pressure. It was a moral imperative.”

The efforts of Unifor’s predecessor union were not confined to economic sanctions. The union also focused on member education and awareness, helping to shape public opinion and influence government policies in Canada.

“Meeting Nelson Mandela and seeing the impact of our work firsthand was incredibly humbling,” said Brenda Wall, a long-time campaigner, researcher, and writer with extensive experience in union and social justice work. “It reinforced the importance of international solidarity and the difference we can make when we stand together.”

The CAW’s efforts were part of a broader international movement that included involvement of diverse sectors such as postal workers, communication workers, and longshore unions. These groups took significant risks, often defying their own governments and employers to stand in solidarity with South African workers.

“As Unifor continues to fight for social justice today, the recognition of Ken Luckhardt and Brenda Wall’s efforts serves as an inspiring reminder of the power of solidarity. The award from the South African government not only honours past achievements but also encourages ongoing efforts to combat oppression globally,” said Payne.

For more information on Unifor’s Social Justice initiatives, visit unifor.org/sjf.



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