Shirley Carr was world’s first woman elected head of a national labour organization
Shirley Carr, a long-time activist and labour leader whose work has created a legacy of strength and pride in the Canadian labour movement, died on Thursday, June 24, at the age of 81, in Niagara Falls, Ontario.
CUPE National president Paul Moist this morning released the following statement on Sister Shirley’s passing:
Workers have lost a true friend with the passing of Sister Shirley Carr. As past-president of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), Shirley was the first woman in the world to be elected leader of a national labour organization. From 1974 to 1992, she served as executive vice-president and later as president of the CLC.
Shirley got her start as an activist and labour leader with CUPE. In the early 1960s, Shirley held several executive positions in CUPE Local 133. In 1970, she led the formation of a CUPE local representing employees of the Regional Municipality of Niagara and was the local's president until 1974. From 1967, she was an active officer of the Ontario Division of CUPE and at the national level she was elected regional and then general vice-president of the union.
Shirley was not only the first female president of the CLC, she was also the first candidate with a public service background to hold the position. As a result, she raised the membership and participation of both of these groups within the Canadian labour movement.
Under her leadership, Shirley fostered meaningful political relationships, both in Canada and abroad. Ties with the New Democratic Party were strengthened so that labour could have a stronger voice in politics.
In the international arena, Shirley worked with the International Labour Organization (ILO) to oppose apartheid and fought relentlessly to improve rights and equality for others.
Shirley graduated from Stamford Collegiate Vocational Institute in Niagara Falls, Ontario. She went on to receive seven honourary doctorates for her work, from McMaster University, University of Western Ontario, University of Victoria, Brock University, Acadia University, York University, and the University of Northern British Columbia. She was also named a Fellow of Ryerson University in recognition of her outstanding work in the Canadian and international labour movements.
I knew Shirley well through my early years in CUPE and as a labour council president and Federation of Labour officer. She was a fighter for all workers and an inspiration to all. We will miss her greatly.