Tom Dufresne

Interviewed by Phil Legg

Tom Dufresne was born and grew up in Montreal. When he was about 15, he started working in a variety of jobs in Montreal including at lawn chair and ladder factories, delivering pop, and roofing. In 1969, he headed to the West Coast and ended up in Vancouver, where he met his wife. After moving back to Montreal briefly so Tom could finish high school, they returned to Vancouver in 1970.  Tom’s jobs during that time included sharpening axes, unloading box cars, and making cleaning products. After learning that the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) was hiring, he began working as a casual from the ILWU hiring hall in April 1971. In 1973, he took a heavy duty mechanic pre-apprenticeship course. When he finished the course, he worked out of the ILWU dispatch hall as a mechanic until he got a regular job in 1974.

Impressed by the ILWU leaders of the time, Tom decided to run for election in the union. He ran four times and was successful in 1988. He continued being elected until 2010. After his term ended in 2012, he retired. Over the years, Tom was elected to several different positions in the ILWU: business agent, vice-president, executive member, health and safety committee member, president of his local, and president of the Canadian area for 16 years.

In this interview, Tom describes the conditions he experienced in his working life. He shares his view on many of the issues important to unions and working people, including health and safety, technological change and automation, pensions, workers’ rights, education, globalization, and international solidarity.

Longshore workers; casuals; hot edicts; struck cargo; unemployment insurance; TubeCo; heavy duty mechanic; health and safety; technological change; ILWU Local 500; ILWU Canada; Labour Canada; Workers’ Compensation Board of British Columbia; right to refuse unsafe work; Vancouver Wharves; Canada Industrial Relations Board; Marine Safety and Security, Transport Canada; technological change; automated port terminals; globalisation; NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement); Delta Port; pensions; ex parte injunctions; parental leave; International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF); ITF inspectors; international solidarity; Canadian Seamen’s Union; Patrick Corporation; Maritime Union of Australia; Polish Solidarity Movement; Vancouver and District Labour Council; BC Federation of Labour; Pacific Coast Maritime Workers Council; Canadian Merchant Service Guild; Seafarers’ International Union of Canada; Marine Workers & Boilermakers Industrial Union; Grain Workers Union; United Fishermen and Allied Workers’ Union; young workers committees; union education; union women’s committees; Bryce Mackasey; Tom Axworthy; Roy Smith; Lou Kaufman; Don Lanaville; Bill Kemp; Gordie Larkin; Joe LeClair; Jim Beynon; Geoff Meggs; Bill Kerrigan; Mike McDermott; Don Garcia; Patrick Reed; Doug Sigurdson; Tommy McGrath; Jim Green; Lech Wałęsa;  Jimmy Keith; Mike Marino; Jack Nichol; Frank Kennedy; Rob Ashton; Dan Kask

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Tom Dufresne was interviewed in 2013 for the Pacific Coast Pensioners Association Oral History Project. That interview is archived at the University of Washington and can be accessed here: