Going “full bore” and other lessons from Union Leader Richard Cashin | FFAW-Unifor | Fish Food & Allied Workers Union

Going “full bore” and other lessons from Union Leader Richard Cashin

This article was originally published in the Winter 2021/2022 Edition of the Union Forum Magazine, written by Alyse Stuart, FFAW-Unifor Staff Representative.

Recently, in preparation for our 50th anniversary edition of the Union Forum, I had the pleasure of meeting with our union founder, Richard Cashin, to learn more about our union’s history from the person who was at the helm when it all began.

There is no story of our union that can be told without Richard Cashin. From unlikely beginnings gathered around kitchen tables on the Great Northern Peninsula, to church halls in economically disenfranchised outport communities—it was Richard and his renowned reputation as an orator who brought thousands together and revolutionized an industry.

Despite a different upbringing from many in outport Newfoundland, with Richard being a lawyer from town and a former Member of Parliament, he had the innate ability to connect with working people by illuminating the path towards a better province he knew was possible. It is said that he was able to make a crowd of angry fists turn into chants of solidarity with one of his signature electrifying speeches.

Much like the mentions of Smallwood or Crosbie, the legend of Richard Cashin is a part of our collective history during the foundational time where we moved from a colony of disorganized settlements to a province attempting unity. However, in the process of province-building, outport Newfoundland and Labrador was largely ignored and left to fend for themselves under the oppressive thumb of generational merchant rule. Thousands lived day to day and season to season without proper social protection or economic security, this had to change.

Richard Cashin recognized that “if anything was going to change it had to be from the ground up” and so began the journey from province-building to union-building.

TIMELINE:

1958: Graduated from St. FX University in Antigonish Nova Scotia which he credits to informing his world view on redistributing wealth, trade unionism, the success of community co-operatives, and the joys of Cape Breton hospitality.

1961: Graduated from Dalhousie Law School

1962-1968: Member of Parliament for St. John’s West until what Mr. Cashin describes as his “involuntary retirement”

1971: First Convention of the Northern Fishermen’s Union

19711993: President of FFAW

1990: Order of Canada

1991: Memorial University Honorary Graduate, Doctor of Laws

1992: Sworn of Queen’s Privy Council for Canada

2019: Order of Newfoundland

Cashin recognized that the success of a fisherman’s union relied on making sure it was a union for everyone. In communities that are dependent upon the inshore fishery, it is an industry that goes beyond the boat and onto the floor of the fish plants, and more often than not multiple family members were involved. Therefore, in those early years it was a community-minded approach to organizing the inshore fishery, challenge the elite, and build an economy with the working people of the province—not on top of them.

In my afternoon with Richard Cashin, he remarked with a nimble wit and unmatched tenacity about the generational accomplishments that were achieved during his time as the President of our union. One only need to read “More Than a Union” by Gordon Inglis or Earle McCurdy’s recent “A Match To a Blasty Bough” to understand the monumental impact of Cashin, as both offer a chronological narration the formation of FFAW and the ongoing resolve of working people to demand more.

When speaking with Richard Cashin he cites the creation of the Labrador Fishermen’s Union Shrimp Company (LFUSC) as one of the major accomplishments during his tenure with the union. No doubt influenced by the Antigonish Movement during his time at St. Francis Xavier University, where co-operatives were organized to share the wealth among those most attached to the resource, thereby ending generations of exploitation and empowering communities to be the leaders of their own economic destiny. Cashin recognized the unprecedented opportunity for communities adjacent to the burgeoning northern shrimp fishery on the southern Labrador coast and put theory to practice.

Richard said he made a case to Romeo LeBlanc, former Minister of Fisheries, on the principle of adjacency to guarantee licenses be granted to Labrador harvesters, and then made sure a company was created based on a co-op model that would keep all profits in the community. The result was the LFUSC which is still owned by local harvesters whose profits are sent back into community development, and to this day it remains the largest community-based company in Canada.

In our conversation on that day and in those since, it is abundantly clear the unrivaled steadfastness and commitment Richard Cashin continues to embody as one of the founders of our union. If I mention to anyone about having the chance to meet with Richard Cashin, stories start coming out of the woodwork about times on the road; times in the front of an angry crowd that turned into a group of union brothers and sisters; times of revolutionary turmoil; times of laughter when the world seemed like it was collapsing; and times where against all odds one man came to speak truth to power for a generation of workers.

Of course, I would have been remiss not to ask Richard about our next 50 years. He told me, with punctuated passion that it was a ripe time to organize as the gap between rich and poor is growing. Perhaps most importantly for me, as a union organizer about to hit the road for the next chapter of this union, he said whatever we do we “have to go full-bore.”

And that is what I intend to do, as I’m sure if I don’t, I’ll hear all about it from Richard.

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