Everything you need to know about Canadian Labour Congress Secretary-Treasurer Barbara Byers can be summed up in just two words: “Prairie populist”.
From her early years as a social worker to heading first the Saskatchewan Government Employees Union and then the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour (SFL) before being elected as a CLC Executive Vice-President, Barb’s life has been spent fighting for the underdog. Barb was elected Secretary Tresurer of the CLC in 2014.
Barb was a social worker for 17 years, addressing issues of poverty, youth unemployment, aboriginal concerns, equality for all and labour rights. Those strong beliefs turned her towards political activism within her union – and to face strong challenges from the anti-labour Conservative government of Grant Devine in Saskatchewan.
Barb led her union through four turbulent years, opposing privatization, the weakening of labour laws for both unionized and non-unionized workers, reductions in social services and attacks on the public sector.
Barb’s inspired leadership led to her being elected President of the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour in 1988 for the first of 14 years – and the opportunity to help overwhelmingly defeat the scandal-ridden Devine government in 1991 and watch as 12 current or former members of the Conservative caucus were charged with fraud.
Moving from the SFL to the Canadian Labour Congress in 2002, Barb is responsible for labour education; medicare and health care; workplace training and technology; employment insurance; apprenticeships; and issues of concern to women workers, workers with disabilities and gay, bi-sexual, lesbian and transgender workers.
She also represents Canada as one of 14 worker delegates on the Governing Body of the International Labour Organization, the United Nations agency that brings together governments, employers and workers in common action to promote decent work throughout the world.
Barb’s strong community roots led her to become founder of the SFL Summer Camp for Youth in Saskatchewan and co-founder of the Prairie School for Union Women.