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Jack Otero

Former ITF general secretary Harold Lewis remembers Jack Otero.


Jack (Joaquin Francisco) Otero, died on 9 November, 2016, aged 83.

For some thirty years he played an active and influential role in the ITF: first, in 1961, as its representative in Brazil, then, from 1964 to 1967 as director of the ITF's Latin American and Caribbean region. He returned to the USA, his adopted homeland, to pick up his career within what was then the Brotherhood of Railway and Airline Clerks (BRAC). He rose steadily through its local and national ranks to become a vice president, returning to the ITF in 1977 as a member of its executive board, on which he served for 16 years until he retired from BRAC, which by then was known as the Transport-Communication Union (TCU) and has since become part of the International Association of Machinists (IAM).

It had been an extraordinary journey for the nineteen-year-old from a working-class family in Havana, Cuba, who had set out for the USA in 1953 to find a new and better life than that offered by General Batista's vicious and corrupt dictatorship. He soon gained a job in St Louis with the Illinois Terminal Railroad as a ‘typing clerk/mail boy’, joined the BRAC and his life's course in the trade union movement was set. But as an Hispanic American he had broader interests. He was determined to defend and exemplify the strength to be had from both those identities: true Americans could take pride in and never apologise for their Hispanic origins and culture. He led the founding of a national Hispanic labour association and was a leading light of many Hispanic community organisations. His more general political engagements also grew steadily over the years to the point where he had assignments from the Clinton administration nationally and represented American workers on the Governing Body of the ILO. When his labour and political commitments were gradually reduced in retirement he spent his time writing his life-story and a novel, and almost to the end offered long, well-argued (sometimes provocative) commentaries on current affairs in his website

He was never half-hearted about anything. If something was worth his interest then he gave it his all. In his years close to the ITF he was an abiding asset, genuinely believing in the rightness and necessity of international activities. His greatest single, and at the time crucial, contribution to the ITF was to rebuild its Latin American and Caribbean Region after the almost fatal damage done to it by his predecessor as director. Only someone of almost reckless physical courage, single-mindedness and relentless stamina could have turned that poisonous and hostile situation round in three short years.

We did not always agree. I had some real differences with him in my time at the ITF over policy. But we never let them colour our personal relationship. We got on very well and I was very happy to keep in regular touch with him to the last. I feel his loss. Carin and his extended family have my deepest sympathy.

Harold Lewis

General secretary of the ITF, 1977-1993