CAW Convention Delegates Elect Ken Lewenza New National President

September 6, 2008, 1:00 PM EST


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Delegates representing CAW members from across Canada elected Ken Lewenza as the new national president at a special convention held on September 6.

Lewenza, former CAW Local 444 president and former CAW Council president, replaces Buzz Hargrove, who after 16 years as CAW president gave his final speech this morning.

With tough economic times slamming manufacturing and other economic sectors and a federal election call looming, Lewenza outlined an agenda of hope and inspiration for CAW members. He urged CAW members to take an active role in building a stronger future for workers, their families and communities, including keeping Stephen Harper out of government.

"Does anyone believe that the real face of Stephen Harper is the one we see governing with a minority?" Lewenza said. "The real face of Stephen Harper is the one from the Reform Party, the one from the right-wing National Citizen's Coalition and the one that will dismantle our country and make it unrecognizable to us today."

He dismissed recent announcements by the Harper government to put money into the auto industry, after the government refused earlier funding requests up until several days before an election call.

"Where is Stephen Harper on a long-term strategy to preserve manufacturing jobs?" asked Lewenza. "What we need is a Made in Canada industrial policy, one that allows us to build a strong economy and create jobs."

The fight to protect quality public health care and to stop the federal government from entering unfair trade agreements that undermine working people must remain top priorities during election, he said.

Lewenza also stressed that he would continue to build the diversity of the union and reach out and organize low wage workers and the 70 per cent of Canadian workers who remain unorganized.

In a brief and moving speech Hargrove described the many changes that have occurred during his tenure as CAW president, including the growth of the membership from 170,000 in 1992 to approximately 250,000 members today and the expanding of the union's vision to include workers in sectors such as gaming, health care, post-secondary schools and retail.

"My pride has been that we've been able to open up the organization for all people," said Hargrove. Under Hargrove's stewardship, the union merged with more than 30 other unions, bringing in a greater number of women, youth and workers of colour.

He said it's critical for CAW members to take on the right wing Stephen Harper agenda in the coming federal election.

But Hargrove also stressed CAW members must continue to play an active role after the election in fighting for equality, social justice, better working conditions and progressive policies.

"The incredible challenges working people face today will only intensify should Stephen Harper win a majority government," Hargrove said. "We all must work to ensure that doesn't happen."

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine also spoke to the crowd of 1000 delegates, union staff and guests. He called Hargrove a tireless advocate of all peoples, who strongly believes all people need to be treated fairly and justly.

Fontaine and Hargrove recently returned from a trip to the Yukon to visit Little Salmon Carmacks where CAW skilled trades volunteers worked at repairing 27 contaminated wells this past summer. The volunteers will return next summer to repair the remaining 30 wells.

Lewenza, 54, is the third CAW national president elected since the formation of the Canadian union in 1985. Hargrove's predecessor was Bob White who served as national president from 1985 to 1992.

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