James Clancy (1951-2024): A visionary leader in labour and social justice

“We are saddened to share that James Clancy, a trailblazer in the labour movement, a staunch advocate for social justice and former President of the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE), passed away on April 2, 2024,” said Bert Blundon, NUPGE President. “Our deepest condolences go to his partner, Debbie and his children Allison, Nick and Alex.”

Clancy led the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) for 26 years. Elected as President in 1990, he advocated fiercely for the protection and expansion of public services and programs. He was a staunch defender of public Medicare, the Canada Pension Plan, Old Age Security, and Guaranteed Income Supplements. Over his tenure, he guided the work of the national union, through its federated structure, to become a go-to place for valuable research, outspoken campaigns, and leadership on issues no one else would take on. At the heart of his action was the belief that our common wealth should be used for the common good.

A skillful tactician, Clancy saw the growing divide between the rich and the rest of society. He fought the austerity measures governments were pushing, as well as the rise of privatization designed to feed the profits of the already powerful. In 2010, NUPGE launched a campaign that would address those problems and provide solutions. Building on the well-established work of the union on issues of fairness and justice, the All Together Now! campaign was created using the strength of our members.

The All Together Now! campaign epitomized Clancy’s approach to mobilizing NUPGE’s members and workers across the country against inequality and for a more just society.

In the midst of the financial crisis, NUPGE embarked on a campaign against income inequality. The focus was getting people to see what society would look like if only corporations would pay their fair share, forcing a discussion on tax at a time of financial collapse. The campaign’s Fairness Express bus tour was rolled out to communities around the country, changing the way people viewed unions, and inspiring people to fight the growing trend of profit over people.

Prior to his leadership role at NUPGE, Clancy had been the youngest person to lead a major union in Canada as President of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) when he was elected in 1984.

A proud social unionist, he fought to improve wages and working conditions, but he also worked to organize the unorganized, supporting workers who were often overlooked and undervalued, and advocating for the more vulnerable in society.

Clancy was born in Kingston, Ontario, in 1951, into a family of 7 children, from public service working parents. His father was a paratrooper with the Canadian army, and his mother an ambulance driver for the British forces who met while fighting in World War II in England. They relocated to Ottawa shortly after James’s birth.

After graduating from Carleton University in 1975 with a degree in political science, he joined the Ontario Public Service as an income maintenance officer, quickly engaging in his union local, eventually becoming President of Local 533, with a focus on equality, fairness, and justice.

Clancy believed that the combined power of workers could force change in the world. Workers could challenge those in power — be it politicians or CEOs — to restore fairness and justice to the people who worked hard to make a living, feed their families, and retire with dignity. Anything that got in the way of that was fair game.

“We are thankful for the years of service James gave to our union and the labour movement,” said Jason MacLean, NUPGE Secretary-Treasurer. “He leaves behind an incredible legacy of helping build worker power and a more equitable and just society for the future generations.”