The Governor General's Canadian Leadership Conference

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Leo Gerard
Leo W. Gerard
International President
United Steelworkers
Leo Gerard  

Excerpts from speech delivered to the Conference:

Right now in America the top 400 families control more wealth than the bottom 150 million people. Just last week, I read that student debt in America will top a trillion dollars. College student debt in America is now higher than credit card debt. People talk about the Arab Spring - do you know that youth unemployment in Egypt last summer was lower than youth unemployment will be in America this summer. So no one should be surprised by the Occupy Wall Street Movement. It fizzled but it's still there, underneath the surface. What you saw in the Occupy Movement is a very small slice of the frustration and anger that resides amongst so many people that feel left behind.

Today in America, and maybe close to it in Canada, average working family income is at roughly the same level as it was in 1975. That can't be sustained. When you tell kids to go to college and they come out of that college with the equivalent of a mortgage in debt, and can't find a job...

So we need to talk about sustainability in many different ways. We need to talk about sustainability in our communities. We need to talk about economic sustainability. We need to decide what is a community. If you want to think about sustainability you also have to think about morality. And as a society, we need to make sure that the next generation is not left in a worse condition by this generation. That means we need to think about poverty rates. We need to think about, not necessarily income distribution, but wealth distribution. We need to talk about really regulating the financial markets so that they can't go gamble with our money. We need to think about how we create real wealth.

I don't know everybody in the room, but two of the people sitting at this table are creating real wealth. Sergio Marchionne takes parts, some made by him, some made by others, and assembles them together. Each part is worth a little bit but the whole is worth a lot. By manufacturing they've created real wealth. Don Lindsay (CEO of Teck Resources) takes raw material out of the ground and transforms it into something that can be used, to transform into something else. That adds value and creates real wealth.

Selling collateral debt offerings doesn't create any real wealth. It gambles with somebody else's money. And if we're going to talk about sustainability, then we need to talk about sustainability in an economic model that serves creating real wealth - not one that serves the equivalent of a casino capitalist society....

My view of leadership in the labour movement is to make sure that you know what you don't know. And when you know what you don't know, have people around you that are smarter than you. And make sure that they know what you don't know. Because if you've got somebody around you that's as dumb as you are, you're really wasting a lot of time. And far too many people in the world, not just in the labour movement, but in business and in government, think they know everything. The world is too complex, it changes too fast for anyone of us to think we know everything.

But there's nothing that can stop us from bringing people around us that can help us know what we don't know. And if you can do that, you can make decisions that are the best and you can lead.

I also agree with, in a slightly different way, with what Sergio said. I think the best mark of a leader is who he or she leaves behind to lead after they are gone.... Leaders have to be a reflection of the society we want to be a part of. We've got to bring them into the system and we've got to give them a chance to make mistakes, and to grow and to develop and nurture them. So that when our time comes to move on, the institutions that we're part of, whether it's government, business or labour, will be left in equally good hands or even better hands.

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