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July 16, 2012 / Man in the Mirror

Durham Region.com: Oshawa woman honoured for decades of activism

Retired GM worker Beverly McCloskey stands up for women’s, workers’ rights

 

Oshawa woman honoured for decades of activism. OSHAWA — Beverly McCloskey was recently recognized with the Agnes McPhail Award. She began working for GM in 1949 as a 20 year old and is a champion of workers’ rights and women’s rights. June 4, 2012 Jason Liebregts / Metroland
Women were the lowest paid; in those days if you had a job you didn’t think about that. Beverly McCloskey

OSHAWA — After more than 60 years of fighting for change, retired GM worker and union activist Beverly McClosky is being honoured for her work.

 

The longtime Oshawa resident was recently awarded the Agnes MacPhail Award by the NDP’s women’s committee in honour of her work on behalf of women’s and workers’ rights.

Born in Cornwall Ont., Ms. McCloskey began working for General Motors in 1949 as a 20 year old.

Her other option at the time was working for the mental health hospital in Whitby, but back then it was a long commute from Oshawa to the hospital and she opted to take a job at GM on one of the women’s lines.

“Women were the lowest paid; in those days if you had a job you didn’t think about that.”

She made 75 cents an hour and had no benefits.

That year she participated in her first labour action, a wildcat strike.

“I didn’t know what was going on … that’s when I started to learn about the union.”

From then on she’s been involved with the union and despite the fact that she retired from General Motors in 1984, she can still be found at the Canadian Auto Workers Local 222 hall teaching tai chi classes or giving her two cents on retiree’s issues.â?¨ She remembers bitter struggles during her time on the line, including a 149-day strike in 1955.

“It was the strongest thing that ever happened with the union,” said Ms. McCloskey

In the 1960s the role of female workers changed dramatically.

“When I first got hired at GM, as soon as you got married you were finished,” she said.

There were also different seniority lists for men’s lines and women’s lines. In 1969, Ms. McCloskey formed the first women’s committee in Canada at the United Autoworkers Local 222.

The committee went on to lobby Oshawa NDP MPP Cliff Pilkey to present a bill that banned sex and marital status discrimination in the workplace.

“We met with the feminists and went after the government in Toronto and sat in parliament I don’t know how many times,” said Ms. McCloskey.

After a year and a half of lobbying the battle was won.

“It gave us the right to transfer to so-called male jobs; well they paid 22 cents more an hour and they didn’t have to work as hard,” said Ms. McCloskey.

She remembers some women were assigned the dirtiest jobs, but they just did them and eventually they were regarded as partners by the men.

In addition to volunteering at the CAW hall Ms. McCloskey keeps busy as a founding board member for the Durham Region Unemployed Help Centre and is also involved with the Sunrise Seniors Place board.

She also has lots of fight in her.

“Right now with the students protesting in Quebec, I’d love to be out there protesting with them,” she said.

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