by Dan Gallin
Dan Benedict, international trade unionist, died on September 16, 2003, in Ottawa, at the age of 86. He was among the outstanding leaders of the international trade union movement of his generation, although the formal leadership role was denied to him. He leaves behind an example of courage and integrity.
Benedict was born in New York on September 20, 1917, studied at New York City College and obtained a Bachelor of Science in 1938. As a young man, he joined the Workers’ Party (later Independent Socialist League - ISL) where he acquired the socialist culture and values that sustained him all his life. He served an apprenticeship in machine shops (printing machinery, stove and engine plants) and was a shop steward with the Independent United Electrical Workers (IUE) at the General Electric aircraft engine plant in Lynn, Massachussets.
After four years of military service in World War II, he did graduate work in linguistics in 1946 at the Sorbonne in Paris, on a scholarship by the French government and supported by the US Veterans Bill of Rights. After working for CARE in Paris, Benedict went back to the US in 1950 to work with Walter Reuther at the CIO.
In late 1957, he moved to Mexico where he was responsible for trade union education at the ICFTU Inter-American Regional Organization (ORIT), until August 1962 when he became Assistant General Secretary at the International Metalworkers’ Federation (IMF). In the IMF, his field of activity encompassed mainly Latin America and the Mediterranean Region.
During that period, the IMF, under general secretaries Adolphe Graedel and later Ivar Norén, proved impervious to political pressures from governments and infiltration by government agencies, which had affected several other International Trade Secretariats. Benedict was able to conduct a policy of supporting independent, militant and democratic trade unionists in his area of regional responsibility, often in direct conflict with the US labor institutes, particularly AIFLD in Latin America. He worked with metalworkers' unions in countries under military dictatorship (Brazil and Chile) and with illegal organizations (USO and UGT) in Franco Spain. Because of his thorough knowledge of the Latin American labor scene, he was also able to warn the IUF secretariat of the CIA infiltration attempts to which it had been exposed, making possible the elimination of CIA influence in that organization by the middle 1960s.
At the IMF Congress in Stockholm in 1974, Benedict was a candidate to suceed Ivar Norén as General Secretary. He was opposed by Herman Rebhan, an official of the United Automobile Workers (UAW) of the United States, who had done a stint in the IMF as co-ordinator of world councils in the automobile industry before returning to the US. Rebhan had also been a member of the ISL but by that time had abandoned any semblance of socialist principle.
Rebhan had the active support of President George Meany and Director of International Affairs Jay Lovestone of the AFL-CIO, who organized a campaign without precedent in the international trade union movement, combining threats, blandishments and flattery to get Rebhan elected. Even though they managed to line up only three countries (all US affiliates except the IUE), the German IG Metall and the Japanese affiliates), these, plus a few lesser client unions, tallied 7 million votes at congress. The rest of the world, voting for Benedict, only reached 4 million votes.
Benedict remained IMF Assistant General Secretary but it became quickly apparent that he would be unable to exercise his function under the Rebhan regime. In 1977 he left the IMF and moved to Canada to join the United Auto Workers (UAW-Canada) education department. In that capacity, he developed the Canadian UAW’s (later Canadian Auto Workers, CAW’s) Paid Education Leave program, the largest single adult education program for working people in Canada.
In 1981 Benedict became a Canadian citizen, and felt “very comfortable” as such. He formally retired from the UAW-Canada in 1982 but remained active in the labor movement. After the collapse of the USSR, Benedict worked with the new labor movements in Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and Mongolia (the latter on an IUF assignment) on setting up educational programs. He also remained active in social movements in Canada: as long as his health permitted, he was both president of the Organization of Senior Citizens of Ontario and the co-chair of the Ontario Health Coalition.
Benedict is survived by his wife Micheline, two daughters, Marie-Blanche and Francesca, a son, Stephen, who is a member of CAW Local 112 and Director of the International Department of the Canadian Labour Congress, and four grandchildren.