By Neil Armstrong
|Photo credit: Yolanda McClean Lana Armstrong speaking about her father, the late Bromley L. Armstrong, at a memorial held at the Ontario Federation of Labour in Toronto on Sept. 17, 2018.|
Organized labour and some social justice and community organizations have lauded the late Bromley Lloyd Armstrong for being a dedicated labour and community activist.
He passed away on August 17 at the age of 92 and was buried on August 29 in Pickering, Ontario.
The Toronto & York Region Labour Council, Labour Community Services, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, Urban Alliance on Race Relations and Jamaican Canadian Association celebrated the life and legacy of Armstrong at a memorial at the Ontario Federation of Labour on September 17 in Toronto.
Hassan Yussuff, president of the Canadian Labour Congress, said when be became president of the organization Armstrong told him that he was glad to know that he lived long enough to see him attain that position.
“It’s important to remember Bromley Armstrong as a brother who is part of our movement,” he said underscoring the things for which he fought such as “working people should be able to have decent jobs and good housing.”
Nigel Barriffe, president of the Urban Alliance on Race Relations, noted that the late social justice activist was a founder of the organization which continues to speak out against racism and injustice.
Meanwhile, Adaoma Patterson, president of the Jamaican Canadian Association (JCA) said she met Armstrong at a conference when she was a high school student in Winnipeg, Manitoba and he was founder of the National Council of Jamaicans and Supportive Organizations, host of the event.
She noted that he mobilized people across the country and believed in creating a space for young people.
Patterson said the JCA houses the Marcus Garvey chair that belonged to the UNIA headquarters in Toronto and that it will serve as a reminder of the work that people like Armstrong did.
The JCA will make sure that the story is told to the local and international students with whom it engages.
Marie Clarke Walker, secretary-treasurer of the Canadian Labour Congress, said she believes Martin Luther King Jr. is the United States’ Bromley Armstrong.
She noted that Armstrong had more than sixty years of leadership with the labour movement and his community activism and labour activism were substantial.
Quoting the comments he made in 2005 when the CLC presented him with an outstanding service to humanity award, she said he noted that “things may change but still they remain the same” when comparing 1948 to 2005.
“Bromley was always about working together both inside and outside the labour movement.”
Winnie Ng, veteran labour activist and a distinguished visiting scholar at Ryerson University, described him as a pioneer, mentor and brother in the labour movement.
She met him in 1986 when she attended the United Auto Workers human rights conference with June Veecock, another well-known labour activist.
Ng said Armstrong “never retreated and never gave up” and was not afraid to raise the issues and make it known that “we are not invisible.”
Another labour organizer, Jojo Geronimo, noted that when he arrived in Canada from the Philippines in the 1980s as a political refugee he met Armstrong.
“The fight in the community and the fight in the union is one fight,” he said of the Jamaican’s pursuit for social justice.
Lana Armstrong said trade unionism was the bread and butter of her father, Bromley.
She said he was always trying to encourage people and to get them organized.
“He was a person of great tenacity and just of spunk; he was spunky even in his 90s,” she said, noting that Armstrong treated everybody with respect and was always about supporting young people.
She described her father as a person of determination and great integrity, and said people were drawn to him.
“He told it like it is and didn’t beat around the bush,” she said, noting that for him everybody has a purpose.
John Cartwright, president of the Toronto & York Region Labour Council, invited everyone to look more at the history of Armstrong on the council’s YouTube channel where they will find “Welcome to Canada” which “unpacks the challenge around our racist immigration policy.”
The film tells the story of Donald Moore, Armstrong and others who went to Ottawa in 1954 to challenge that policy.
He also referenced “Breaking Barriers, Linking Struggles” which tells the story about Armstrong, Veecock, Ng, Herman Stewart, Pat Case and others who contributed to “that incredible journey.”
The film “Welcome to Dresden” about Armstrong’s effort to end discrimination and racism was shown.
Cartwright said Armstrong’s main message at the York Convocation in 2013 where he received an honorary degree was: “You all have a choice to make in your life; you can move forward trying to move ahead and move up without regard for those you leave behind. Or you can pick up a mantle of justice, of freedom, of dignity, of equality and you can make your life so worthwhile.”
He said the celebration of Armstrong could not end that evening but required passing on the legacy and inspiration of the veteran leader to future generations.
Since 2005, the labour council has presented the Bromley Armstrong award it established to labour and community activists, who through their activism, exemplifies his work.
[This story was published in the North American Weekly Gleaner, Sept. 27-Oct. 3, 2018.]