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Carreer Junction by Michele Majul-Ibarra

Of shop stewards and working-class heroes

by Levy Abad

Shop Stewards first appeared in the engineering industry between 1898 and 1900*. They are part of the local collective leadership or circle and the defenders of the working-class interest. The democratic gains the workers have, such as the eight-hour working day, minimum wage, pension, etc., are the results of their collective struggles under the guidance of the union leadership. According to the Steward Handbook by the Canadian Labour Congress, “Why do we have stewards?” Shop Stewards strengthen the union and raise the organization on an equal level with management. Unfortunately, most people only remember the high-ranking union officers or the good-looking reactionary politico whose mission is to reverse the historical gains of the workers. This made me ponder on writing this article as a tribute to two of our Filipino Shop Stewards, Isagani Bartolome, and Amado “Richard” Dumangan Jr.

Isagani “Issi” Bartolome

Isagani “Issi” Bartolome
Amado “Richard” Dumangan Jr.

Isagani “Issi” Bartolome hails from Bustos, Bulacan, a town in Luzon – a major northern island in the Philippines. Isagani left the old country and arrived in Winnipeg in 1992 via the immigrant stream in search of greener pastures. Isagani’s first job was with Gourmet Baker in 1993, which lasted only for three months. It was with Western Reman Manufacturing that he, together with a couple of friends, formed a union for which he was fired. In 2004, he was paid $6.25 per hour and things were much cheaper than today. Isagani found work with Weston Foods (now Wonderbrands) on September 1, 2004. In 2009, he was asked to become a shop steward, a position he held until 2022 in the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers, and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM) Local 389, located at Chevrier Blvd. (formerly at the Weston Bakeries building, 666 Elgin Ave.).

Isagani explained that he likes to help out with issues around fairness, equity, workers’ rights, and welfare. Isagani is also active with the programs of the Philippine Canadian Centre of Manitoba (PCCM), and he is a staff member of one of the successful community newspapers in Winnipeg, Pilipino Express. In addition, he is an active member of the Mabuhay Serenaders, a seniors’ singing group, and was one of the organizers of Wonderbrands’ Christmas Party 2023.

Amado “Richard” Dumangan Jr.

Amado “Richard” Dumangan Jr. arrived in Winnipeg in 2007 from Balagtas, Bulacan, north of Manila. Shortly after that, he was hired by Weston Bakeries at its old warehouse. Like Isagani, Richard was also invited by Ambroise Sarrasin, who was the local BCTGM 389 Union Chair at that time (now the Regional VP for Western Canada), to be a shop steward after three years of working for the company. He accepted the invite and stayed up until 2022. Richard has no union experience in the old country, but he surprised me when he shared that he was a musician for some years. Between the ages of 17 to 24, he worked abroad, particularly in Japan as a musician. He was also a seafarer when he was 25 to 27, performing in cruise ships docked at Southampton, England. His favourite bands are the Beatles and Juan de la Cruz, a famous rock and roll band in the Philippines. His group was in the Philippines (between 2002 and 2006) and was known as the “Caravan.” They performed in some prime bars in Manila and did backup sessions with Florante, a famous musician in the 70s and 80s. Isagani told me that Richard was active in the union and had the experience of sitting at the bargaining negotiations with management sometime in 2015.

Silent heroes

Having researched and written a manuscript on the history of Filipino labour leaders of Winnipeg titled Giving Back, Paying Forward: Narrative of Filipino Labour Leaders in Winnipeg (1968 to present),” I decided to write an article about Filipino shop stewards in the city. As a member of the local and as a new shop steward myself, Isagani and Richard are both well-liked and respected by the members. Isagani and Richard may not be famous in the community, but for ordinary people of working-class background, they are heroes worthy of recognition for sacrificing their time in advancing and defending the gains of the working-class movement in their small way.

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.

* “Shop Steward Movement Originates,” St. James Encyclopedia of Labor History Worldwide: Major Events in Labor History and their Impact,