republished with kind permission from the September issue of the Advocate, the official newsletter of the BC Federation of Retired Union Members.
Alice West, former PSAC National Director and President of BC FORUM, has won the 2013 Rosemary Brown award for Women, recognizing her immense contribution to the labour movement, equality and social justice in Canada, and in particular her contributions in the area of Women in the Labour Movement.
The award is a memorial to the life and work of the late Rosemary Brown, a champion for equality rights of women.Each year the Award is presented to a woman or a women’s group who has made an outstanding contribution on the issues championed by Rosemary Brown.
The award was presented by Cleta Brown, the daughter of Rosemary Brown, in a ceremony held at Hycroft House in Vancouver. Alice West began her labour activism in 1942 at age 16, when she took a job paying 37.5 cents an hour at a plywood plant on Boundary Road. Although her father had been blacklisted as a union activist on the Prairies, Alice wasn’t scared off. She worked with the Vancouver Local of the IWA to organize the plant.
In the 1960s, then working for the federal government, Alice was elected shop steward, then Local President, and Treasurer of the B.C. – Yukon region of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC). In 1979, she was elected as National Director for B.C., Yukon and Northwest Territories. As one of only three women on the National Board of Directors, Alice mobilized and organized to break new ground for women.
Nycole Turmel, former PSAC President and now a Member of Parliament, said her work “set the stage for the rest of us.” “(She) pushed forward an equity agenda, emphasized the need to be mobilized and politicized… (and) raised issues that were key for women like child care, anti-harassment and pay equity,” said Turmel.
Alice was a key organizer of the Union’s first ever Women’s Conferences, nationally and regionally, and chaired the union’s Equal Opportunity Committee. She was the third woman elected as an Officer of the B.C. Federation of Labour, serving as Vice-President and representing PSAC on Operation Solidarity during the turbulent 1980s.
“My focus has always been how I could try to make life better for all of us,” says Alice. Even after retirement, Alice didn’t slow down. She was asked by former TWU President Bill Clark to participate in establishing BC FORUM in 1991. She has served as a director ever since, including holding the positions of Vice-President and President.
She worked with Ellen Woodsworth to create Women Elders in Action (WE*ACT), served as Chair of that group, and conducted research into poverty among senior women.
Alice was a fearless pioneer for the rights for women at a time when women were not regarded as equals in the workplace. She fought for pay equity, and continues to fight for retirement security for elder women.
Alice West is a most deserving winner of the Rosemary Brown Award and the province-wide recognition of her many achievements.