It was with great sadness that we learned of the recent death of Brother Guy Jacob, a former UCTE national president and PSAC vice-president.

Jacob became president of UCTE in 1972, during our second convention; he was twice re-elected to the office, in 1975 and 1978.

Six months into his third term, however, Jacob ran for the position of third vice-president during the PSAC’s 1979 convention. Days before his election, the Ottawa Citizen had pointed to the “veteran boss of UCTE” as the favourite among several contenders to replace the incumbent.

Jacob always took pride in his union. It wasn’t a radical union, he contended, but it was a militant one – and one that the government should think twice before challenging.

By the time PSAC held its 1982 convention, Canada was grappling with a recession; 426,000 Canadians had lost their jobs through layoffs in public-sector industries. The federal government was looking to impose a public sector wage restraint program as an option to curb inflation. It was within that political climate that delegates elected several new “younger, more radical” union leaders. It included PSAC President Pierre Samson, who wanted PSAC to become “a more activist, more progressive union to defend the rights of public servants.”

Jacob was one of only two high-ranking officials who managed to get re-elected that year.

Following convention, the Calgary Herald’s editorial team opined that PSAC’s new “radical” leadership had “ominous implications for labour peace in the federal public sector.”

“Militancy on the part of the federal public service would be totally out of place in the current economic context. The public, which will wind up the inevitable scapegoat, is unlikely to accept such an attitude on the part of civil servants.”

Jacob fired back in a scathing letter to the editor, decrying their portrayal of PSAC’s leadership and its prospects for labour peace as “sensational journalism”.

But Jacob didn’t mince words: “My goal is to promote a more aggressive image for our union.”

“It is our hope that the future for labour relations in the federal public service will be based on mutual respect and understanding,” he wrote. “We sincerely believe that such an atmosphere can be fostered provided that the federal government is prepared to enter negotiations in a professional way and that the politics of economic scapegoating are left outside the bargaining table.

“Our view is that federal public service employees are honest, decent, hard-working men and women who pay their full share of taxes and should not be forced to subsidize the Government of Canada with either low wages or sub-standard working conditions.”

If that was a militant position to have, Jacob added, then maybe public servants were the true scapegoats.

Brother Guy Jacob was a fierce and undaunted union leader. He retired in 1985 and continued to advocate for public servants as part of the National Association of Federal Retirees.

He passed away on March 28, 2019 at the age of 91. For information about funeral arrangements, please click here.

Guy Jacob (far right) blocking a car from crossing the
picket line during the 1983 janitorial strike at the National Arts Centre.
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