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Carreer Junction by Michele Majul-Ibarra

Mario Tamayo

Unionism from Manila to Winnipeg

by Levy Abad

  Mario Tamayo
     Mario Tamayo 2

Mario Tamayo arrived in Winnipeg in 1975 from Malolos, Bulacan, a province in the Philippines that played a crucial role in the country’s history. Mario shared that he finished his tertiary education at FEATI University at the height of student activism in Manila. He recalled Bill Alcaras, a known student leader during that time. He joined some rallies and teach-ins before the declaration of Martial Law. As early as 1969, Mario worked at the Manila Electric Company (Meralco). According to Mario’s daughter Paige Dimayuga, before moving to Winnipeg, her father worked at Delta Motors Toyota branch in Manila around 1972. He was also an active founding board member of its union when he was 21.

Faithful to union principles

Mario arrived in Winnipeg three years after the declaration of Martial Law, a period that characterized the heightened struggle of the Filipino working class against the fascist inroad of neoliberalism in the Philippines. This dark period was fought fiercely by the Filipino working-class movement that gave birth to the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) on May 1, 1981(Manggagawa: Noon at Ngayon).

Upon his arrival in Winnipeg, Mario got a job at MacDon Industries Ltd., “a Canadian manufacturer of specialty agricultural equipment established by Joe MacDonald of Truro, Nova Scotia in 1970.” (Wikipedia) He worked as a sheet metal machine operator. Faithful to his union principles, Mario became a member of the local workers association for three years. After three years at MacDon, he moved to Bristol Aerospace (now Magellan Aerospace) as an aircraft sheet metal mechanic. It was here where Mario became a union member of CAW Local 3005 and a shop steward for 30 years. He also headed the human rights desk and became a part of the collective negotiations committee of the local. In a phone interview on May 25, 2024, Mario told me that on several occasions their CAW Local launched strikes to assert workers’ rights and welfare. He stressed that the strike is an instrument of last resort for the workers, used only when dialogue fails.

According to union brothers

According to Neri Dimacali, a pioneer Boeing CAW Local 2169 Vice-Chair and community organizer, Mario helped a lot whenever a trade union leader from Manila arrived in Winnipeg in the mid-90s and onwards. Among them were Elmer Labog, Kilusang Mayo-Uno Vice-Chair who visited in 1997 and 2006, and Crispin Beltran, Kilusang Mayo-Uno Chair in 2008, who came for a solidarity mission – exposing the impunity of the Gloria Macapagal Arroyo regime’s gruesome human rights record. Mario hosted the Philippine trade union reps of KMU on these solidarity occasions.

During my interview in May 2024 with Eddie Miller, a former Philippine movie star and CAW Local 2224 trustee and organizer, Eddie recalled that Mario attended a Family Education Program at Port Elgin, Ontario where the CAW education institution is located. It was also here that both took a course in organizing. On the other hand, Mario shared that his instructors at Port Elgin were Hassan Yusuff (who later became the Chair of the Canadian Labour Congress) and Bob White, founding president of CAW.

Community and church activism

It was around 2011 to 2013 when I was a member of Migrante-Manitoba, a migrant advocacy group advancing the rights and welfare of Filipino migrants in Canada, when I met Mario. I appreciated his profound interest in social issues that affect migrant workers and his concern for the Philippine struggles. He told me that it was during that time when he sang at St. Joseph the Worker Church in Transcona as a member of its music ministry. Mario’s church involvement and concern for the Filipino migrant workers reminded me of the encyclicals of the Catholic Church like Laborem Exercens, Matter et Magestra, Gaudium et Spes, and Pope Francis’ Fratelli Tutti. All these church documents call on the laity to work for justice, peace, and compassion for migrants.

Mario is still working at Magellan (formerly Bristol). He is one of the pioneer labour leaders of Winnipeg. Knowing the sacrifices that a union leader goes through, it is befitting to include him in the narrative of labour leaders, thus putting on record his humble contribution to the Filipino community’s early years in Winnipeg.

Levy Abad authored a book titled Rhythms and Resistance: Narrative of Filipino Musicians and Activists (1972-1994). Levy is also a singer-songwriter, poet, and migrant rights activist who has released four albums centred on the life and struggles of migrants.