January 12, 1992
Jack Munro looks like a mighty ornery wrestler.
January 12, 1992
Jack Munro looks like a mighty ornery wrestler.
His hands are as big as hams and — at six-foot-four and 264 pounds — he matches a young fir in height and girth.
Like all rasslers, Munro's act comes with a patter. It goes something like this: "She was talking all the goddamn time, answering everybody. So I bawled her out. It was the first time we met. I didn't know I was going to marry her."
Later this month, Munro will end an era by walking away from the presidency of IWA-Canada, the largest private-sector union in B.C.
"I can't visualize waking up in the goddamn morning and not worrying about what the hell the world looks like through the eyes of the IWA," he says.
Munro, 60, has lived a life of seeming contradiction.
He is a labor leader respected by the bosses, a champion of the workers whose Ambleside home can be said to be in the working-class district of West Vancouver.
He has signed Cadillac contracts (in 1975, a 26-per-cent wage hike over two years), and he has signed dogs (in 1983, zero, four per cent, and 4.5 per cent over three years).
Even his final act is a doozy. Munro is leaving the union to become the salaried chairman of the B.C. Forestry Alliance, a lobby group financed by the same companies with which he is currently bargaining.
In his 18 years as president, the Munro Doctrine has been a staple of nightly newscasts. B.C.'s best-known labor leader has always been quick with a quip and good for a quote, which usually had to be laundered of expletives. Munro's English may be weak, but his Anglo-Saxon is strong.
The lasting image of Munro will likely be a television clip captured during one particular tense bargaining session. Jack can be seen rolling up the sleeves of his shirt before punching both fists on the table as he leans forward in full-throated yell.
Munro has a reputation for gorilla tactics.
"I remember one time when Jack really uncorked on them, read the Riot Act, called them chisellers and ordered them out of the room," retired IWA vice-president Fernie Viala recalls.
"After a few minutes, their spokesman came back. He said, 'What the hell do you mean us get out? You get out! This is our building!' "
His enemies — and there are many — figure it was all an act, that Munro spoke loudly and carried a soft stick. Jack was like a tree, they said, all bark, no bite.
"I think the employers have been happy to see him there," says longtime Munro foe Jess Succamore of the Canadian Auto Workers. "I think that speaks a lot."
The suspicions of many were confirmed in 1983. As the province teetered on the brink of a Solidarity-led general strike in opposition to a Social Credit restraint plan, Munro flew by government jet to the premier's Kelowna home — hardhat in hand — to negotiate a truce.
He got a deal, but it wasn't a written one. Premier Bill Bennett later reneged on the Kelowna accord.
"It had to be done, whether it was me or somebody else," Munro insists. "The f------ thing was falling apart before it even started. We were supposedly going to get our guys out of logging and the f------ mills to support the teachers, who were already going back to work."
He regained some of his blue-collar credibility three years later, when he led the costliest strike in provincial history, a $2.5-billion, 18-week-long walkout.
That dispute nearly ended his friendship with Keith Bennett, the smooth-talking company negotiator from Forest Industrial Relations. The two men, who still share a hotline telephone between their offices, were renowned for smoothing wrinkles on their own over drinks.
"He's a tough bargainer," Bennett says. "He prepares himself, does his homework, flies off the handle on a regular basis, but does it with a sense of humor."
In 1987, the Canadian arm of the International Woodworkers of America split from the union, and, for the most part, Munro's job was done.
John James Munro was born in Lethbridge, Alta., in 1931, the eldest of two children born to Scottish immigrants. The Munros lived on a farm in Seven Persons, Alta., until his father, Jim, a butcher, was sent to a tuberculosis sanitorium in Calgary.
The rest of the family then moved to a relief farm — "a godforsaken hole," Munro recalled in his autobiography, "Union Jack."
"You were really subject to the f------ whims of the establishment," Munro says today. "I guess that's where you get things inside of you that develop into what you really are."
His father died when Jack was 11.
No scholar, Munro only got as far as Grade 10.
In old family snapshots, six-year-old Jack flashes the grin of a devilish scamp. He would grow up to be a handsome young man with wavy, jet-black hair and an all-business stare.
The years have not been kind to Munro, whose daily regimen once included three packs of Sportsman cigarettes, a 26-ouncer of Canadian Club, and burned steak.
Today, his face is meaty, his complexion florid. The lower lip hangs loose to reveal a row of teeth crooked as graveyard headstones. His hairline looks as if it's been clear-cut. The whole package is bracketed by bushy Charley Pride sideburns.
After Kelowna, poet Tom Wayman expressed his feelings of betrayal in a work titled, "The Face of Jack Munro." It was a face, Wayman wrote, "puffy with greed and fright and satisfaction."
Munro's feuds with the pulp unions are legendary. He accuses them of always waiting for the IWA to settle, so they can piggyback better agreements. He calls them "cake-eaters." And he does not understand why pulp unions don't defend tree-choppers from tree-huggers.
"The pulp unions never seem to support anything outside the pulp-mill fence," he says. "So, if there's no logging, I don't know how the hell they expect to get the goddamn pulp mills to run."
Of one pulp rival, he once said: "I can't stand the cheerless son-of-a-bitch." The feeling is mutual.
"If I commented, it would be entirely negative," says Norm MacLellan, national vice-president of the Canadian Paperworkers Union.
While he was always backed by the bulk of his members, Munro has been accused by Will Offley, an IWA steward, of treachery and of feathering his nest with lucrative government appointments. The IWA under Munro, Offley once wrote, was like the Soviet Union under Brezhnev.
A machinist by trade, Munro got an exemption from picket duty in 1950 during his first strike because he was also working on a farm.
Munro's first marriage, troubled from the start, lasted 18 years and produced three sons, Terry, Dale, and Scotty, who died in a traffic accident at age 13.
In 1966, he ran for the New Democratic Party in Nelson-Creston against Wesley Black, who was premier W.A.C. Bennett's right-hand man. One campaign stop brought him to an afternoon tea. "All these old girls and I can't swear," he sighed. Black whipped him.
Munro turned down an offer from prime minister John Turner to run as a Liberal in 1984, although he later said he was flattered by the overture.
In recent years, even as his membership shrank from technological change in the industry, Munro trained his sights on environmentalists and their pet causes. After encouraging his members to shoot spotted owls on sight, his office was flooded with stuffed owls and owl photos.
"Relaxing is a problem," admits Munro, who used to unbend by bending his elbow. He no longer drinks.
Munro owns a blue Harley-Davidson Classic touring bike ("I've touched 150 klicks, which is 100 miles an hour, but, f---, that's really f-----' dustin' 'er and I'm getting old and chickens---"), but spends more time aboard the 10-metre (33-foot) Green Gold V moored in Eagle Harbor.
He had to sell a battered but beloved '48 Mercury pickup truck because he owned so many vehicles "you needed a parking-lot attendant around on weekends."
Munro and his second wife, Connie, a lawyer with the Workers Compensation Board, recently bought a condominium at Secret Cove.
He does not like the thought of retirement.
"Wandering around the streets looking for someone to have a cup of coffee with?" he says, grimacing. "I can't do that."
Why Jack quit @#%&*! drinking
Jack Munro, the larger-than-life president of IWA-Canada, is tossing in the towel.
In 18 years as president, he became renowned for his goddamn abusive language. He also built quite a reputation for abusing the bottle.
In an interview to mark his pending retirement from the union, he told Staff Reporter Tom Hawthorn about the boozy doozy that persuaded him to sober up.
"I hit a @#%&*! curb on the way home. So [the tire] went flat. I thought, @#%&*! it, I'm gonna get caught, I may as well keep @#%&*! driving. Christ, I got home!
"I thought, I shouldn't park in the driveway behind the boss's car, because she leaves pretty early in the morning. So I parked in front of the house. I was p-----.
"When I turned around, this @#%&*! tire came off the @#%&*! car in the @#%&*! driveway. The next morning she got up to get to work.
"I pretended I was asleep until she got up and @#%&*! off.
"As soon as she @#%&*! off I had to go to @#%&*! work, so I was peeking out the @#%&*! window to see if she'd @#%&*! off.
"I was looking and here was this @#%&*! tire in the middle of the @#%&*! driveway. She threw that sonovabitch across that front- @#%&*!-lawn like Jesus Christ and my @#%&*! car was sitting on the @#%&*! rim.
"@#%&*! lucky. I had to quit drinking. @#%&*! hell, I would have killed myself or somebody else."