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Ray Haynes reads a statement supporting convicted longshoremen at the Vancouver Court House on June 17, 1965.Fishermen Publishing Society / University of British Columbia. Library. Rare Books and Special Collections

Ray Haynes was a titan of the B.C. labour movement at a time when unions made so much news that the Vancouver Sun employed two full-time labour reporters. No one made more news than Mr. Haynes. As head of the B.C. Federation of Labour from 1966 to 1973, Mr. Haynes pushed, propelled and prodded the Federation into the most militant labour organization in North America. During his seven raucous years at the helm, strikes, union protests and labour’s all-consuming fight against the anti-union policies of Premier W.A.C. Bennett’s Social Credit government rocked the province.

Much of the turmoil stemmed from the hands-on leadership of Mr. Haynes. Tired of unions losing strikes because of a lack of resources, he transformed the often-fractious Federation into a solidarity powerhouse. Job action was co-ordinated, union members stopped crossing other unions’ picket lines, and “hot edicts” applied to goods produced by strikebound companies were rigorously enforced. This was revolutionary.

“The reputation for militant action by B.C. labour has spread far beyond the boundaries of the province,” veteran Globe and Mail labour reporter Wilf List told readers, after a first-hand look at the province’s union ferment. “There is more co-operation among unions than anywhere else in Canada and perhaps North America.”

None of it was easy. Union leaders were being regularly jailed or fined for defying court injunctions against picketing, and labour needed all the support it could muster. “I’d been on the job one day, and already 10 more people were in jail,” Mr. Haynes liked to recall. “It seemed you couldn’t sneeze or blow your nose on the picket line, or there’d be an injunction.” It became Mr. Haynes’s personal mission to get rid of them. After a prolonged campaign by the Federation, British Columbia became the first jurisdiction in Canada to remove authority over picketing from the courts in favour of a non-judicial labour relations board. The jailings ended.

But nothing highlighted the force the Federation became during Mr. Haynes’s tenure than organized labour’s ferocious fight against Bill 33, which gave the Bennett government unprecedented powers to impose binding arbitration on any labour dispute, whether in the private or public sector. The Federation responded with a total boycott of the B.C. Mediation Commission that was set up to administer the legislation. The boycott held for four years. With his horn-rimmed, black glasses and prominent features – a delight for political cartoonists, Mr. Haynes became as familiar a figure in the province as the premier. Instead of unions being brought to heel, there was so much industrial relations strife that voters turned their back on Mr. Bennett in 1972 after nearly 20 years in power and elected B.C.’s first NDP government.

Although he made his mark mostly at the Federation, that was far from the extent of his long and varied career. Mr. Haynes, who died Feb. 20 at the age of 94 after complications from a fall, was active in the labour movement for nigh on 70 years, almost as long as Queen Elizabeth reigned over the United Kingdom. He put his skills to work for numerous unions, including a successful drive to organize more than a thousand nurses at B.C.’s long-term care facilities. He considered it one of his proudest achievements. “We worked like dogs, 10 hours a day, six or seven days a week,” Mr. Haynes remembered.

He also spent two rewarding years working on the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry with commissioner Thomas Berger and a brief stint as president of the B.C. NDP.

Mr. Haynes’s embrace of activism extended beyond the immediate interests of the Federation’s 125,000 members. To aid Mexican-American labour leader Cesar Chavez and his legendary campaign to organize California farmworkers, the Federation imposed a “hot edict” on non-union-picked grapes, keeping them off the shelves of the many unionized supermarkets in the province. Mr. Chavez hailed the action as the most effective of all those taken to support his union.

Mr. Haynes was also a frequent speaker at rallies opposing the Vietnam War, and in 1971, he did something remarkable. Ahead of a controversial underground nuclear test on the Alaskan island of Amchitka, Mr. Haynes urged union members to protest the blast by walking off the job for 30 minutes. In response, hard-hatted construction workers marched through downtown Vancouver, brandishing signs with peace symbols. “For the first time in North America,” Mr. Haynes told protesters outside the U.S. consulate, “Workers are downing tools, not over wages, not over working hours, and not over working conditions, but because of a danger to all mankind.”

“There wasn’t a social cause he didn’t care about,” said former B.C. attorney-general Colin Gabelmann, who worked for Mr. Haynes as the Federation’s legislative director, noting his strong, early espousal of environmental issues and the advancement of women within the labour movement.

Ray Haynes was born June 15, 1928, in what was then the separate municipality of Point Grey, before it was swallowed up by Vancouver. His father, William Haynes, was a police detective. His mother, Sadie (née Rahy), had come to Canada as a child from Lebanon. The two met when he popped into her family’s convenience store while patrolling his beat.

Although his father tended to vote CCF, there was little in Ray Haynes’s background to suggest his future course. Growing up in White Rock, he left school after Grade 10, enticed by the prospect of earning a paycheque. Among his early jobs was time as a bellhop in bright red tunic and green striped pants at the Terminal City Club, the posh private club for the city’s elite. A subsequent spell working on the green chain at a Fraser River sawmill changed his life. Not only did he appreciate his amplified union paycheque, he learned the basics of trade unionism from old-time organizers with the International Woodworkers of America.

That paid off at his next job as, of all things, a tea blender in the wholesale division of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Fed up with the low wages and poor working conditions, Mr. Haynes organized the place. In short order, he was a full-time organizer for the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union and eventually its international representative. The RWDSU was an old-style union that targeted smaller workforces, and Mr. Haynes excelled at the rough-and-tumble of organizing them and getting them contracts against resistant employers. But not every battle was won. Minus the clout of the province’s industrial unions, the union often fell prey to companies determined to resist unionization. That experience sold Mr. Haynes on the need to harness the power of the Federation to throw its weight behind unions in difficulty. This was not always to the delight of larger unions who sometimes resented his insistence they toe the Federation line, and he had to fight off regular challenges to his leadership.

After seven years in the trenches and feeling burnt out, Mr. Haynes stepped away from the fray to run the Taku fishing resort on Quadra Island with his wife, Sylvia, and their three children. Making a profit, however, proved a challenge. He was soon back in the labour movement, consulting and working for, among others, the B.C. Nurses’ Union, the B.C. Teachers’ Federation and Vancouver Municipal Workers. At the bargaining table, he often refused to specify union wage demands. When a perplexed employer asked him how he would know when a wage offer was acceptable, Mr. Haynes told him: “I’ll yell ‘Bingo!’”

In retirement, Mr. Haynes spent many years as the Sunshine Coast representative for the B.C. Federation of Retired Union Members and remained close to the Sunshine Coast Labour Council.

It gnawed on Mr. Haynes that he had somehow managed to escape arrest despite his many years on picket lines, legal and illegal, while a number of his union brothers had wound up in jail. Finally, in 2012, at the age of 84, as part of his long embrace of environmentalism, he was among a group of protesters who blockaded a coal train headed to the Roberts Bank coal port. He was arrested and carted off to the White Rock police station. “It’s now off my bucket list,” the redoubtable labour leader said.

He leaves his second wife, Vivian; his children, Deborah Niewerth, Trish Woodward and Mark Haynes; his brother, Donald Haynes; six grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this obituary stated incorrectly that Mr. Haynes was president of the B.C. NDP for several years. This version has been corrected to say that he served in the role only briefly.