Wallace, Len (1925–)

Len Wallace.
Saskatchewan Archives Board R-PS72-1747-06

Leonard Robert Wallace, born in Saskatoon on August 31, 1925, was an active member of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) for forty-two years before his retirement in 1989. For thirty-eight of those years Wallace was a full-time employee of the union. Wallace’s formal education was at Buena Vista elementary school in Saskatoon, followed by a brief stint in high school. He served in the Navy during World War II, and afterwards started a job at Shelley Brothers warehouse in Saskatoon. His commitment to trade unions began in earnest in 1946 when he was fired from the warehouse for trying to organize a union. He was eventually reinstated, but moved on to Federated Co-operatives in Saskatoon, which was already organized by the RWDSU International, based in New York. He quickly got active in the union and was hired as a full-time union representative in 1951. He went on to be elected president of the Saskatchewan Division of the union and then secretary-treasurer, a position he held until his retirement in 1989.

Wallace’s career as the international representative came to an end in 1970 when he was fired for being one of the leaders of Saskatchewan members in their successful drive to disaffiliate from the American-based organization. Out of this campaign the current structure of the Saskatchewan Joint Board, RWDSU was formed. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the independent RWDSU Saskatchewan more than doubled its membership, to the point where it became the province’s largest private sector union of the day. Like all other committed trade unionists, Wallace was a social activist who realized there was work to be done outside the bounds of his own organization. He served as vice-president of the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour during the 1960s and again in the mid-1980s; he was also vice-president of the Canadian Labour Congress during the 1960s. He was a leader in the fight for universal health care, and after medicare came in he sat as a member of the medical care insurance commission. He was a founding member of the Regina Community Clinic.

In the 1960s Wallace was the recipient of the Nuffield Foundation Scholarship which provided him with a six-month education leave to Oxford University in England. In the 1970s he was an important figure and organizer in the fight against wage and price controls at both the federal and provincial levels. In his 80th year, he is still an activist, frequently sitting on arbitration boards and continuing to submit reports and prepare briefs.

Paul Guillet