Retiring trade unionist John Cartwright hailed as ‘transformational’ figure

By Lincoln DePradine

John Cartwright

Veteran trade unionist John Cartwright may not have known in what high esteem he was held by fellow labour leaders, workers, activists and other community members. However, as he heads into retirement, he’s been hailed as a “transformational’’ figure.

Cartwright is his “hero’’, Lekan Olawoye said Monday at what was described as a “special surprise tribute’’ to Cartwright, who is retiring as president of the 200,000 member-strong Toronto York Region Labour Council.

Organizers of the event, including the Toronto Community Benefits Network headed by Rosemarie Powell as executive director, called Cartwright “a towering figure in the labour movement and a great champion of Community Benefits’’.

Cartwright, a carpenter by trade, was well known for his work within the trade union movement and also in the community. He served as business manager of the Building Trades Council and co-chair of the Metro Jobstart Coalition.

Additionally, he was recruited to be part of the board of directors of organizations such as the Labour Education Centre, the Waterfront Regeneration Trust and United Way Toronto.

Cartwright also is credited with leading a successful fight in 2007 for a $10 minimum wage; and helping to develop the “Campaign for Public Education’’ and the “Public Transit for the Public Good’.

John Cartwright and Ucal Powell retired secretary treasurer and co-chair of the board of directors for the College of Carpenters’ and Allied Trades (CCAT)

Speakers at Monday’s tribute referred specifically to Cartwright’s work across race and ethnic groups; his coalition and mentoring-building efforts; his leadership role in confronting issues such as anti-Black racism, Islamophobia, stereotyping and racial profiling; and his ability to deliver spoken messages.

“I have always admired John’s way with words,’’ Judith Hayes said in her remarks. “John cannot only make things with his hands but he can also make things with words, and he had a great deal of influence in this city and in the province by using words in a very skillful way. I really thank you for that, John, and wish you well in the next project in your life.’’

Olawoye, founder and chief executive officer of Black Professionals in Tech Network, said his friendship with Cartwright grew over time.

Cartwright, he said, became “instrumental’’ and “transformational’’ in his personal growth.

“We got to a place that John really knew how to mentor me,’’ said Olawoye. “He’s the most humble person that you’ll ever meet.’’

Neethan Shan, a former Toronto City Councillor and now executive director of Urban Alliance on Race Relations, said Cartwright always has been there “as an ally’’ for him.

“As a labour leader, you always had time for your grass-root labour activists like me and always was able to make the time to listen, talk and mentor and support,’’ said Shan.