Remembering Lukin Robinson

I attended a lovely memorial service this week for Hugh Lukin Robinson, long-time labour economist and progressive activist in Ontario who passed away a few months ago at the ripe old age of 96.  The memorial service was organized by his family (including his son Michael) at the Park-Hyatt Hotel, and was attended by friends and colleagues from Lukin’s very many communities and connections.

Lukin was one of the first economists ever to work for the labour movement in Canada.  He worked as a researcher for the former Mine Mill and Smelter union (the last locals of which joined the CAW in the early 1990s), and later served as economist for OPSEU.  His work for unions reflected his respect for the historical and political importance of organized labour, and his belief (which I fully share) that progressive intellectuals can play an important, independent, but always-respectful role within a broader movement of working people.  His professional work as an economist included many other positions, as well: including work for the United Nations, the Bank of Canada, as a consultant, and as a university teacher.

Lukin was a multi-facted personality, and this was fully evident at the memorial service.  Small displays were set up in different parts of the room reflecting his differing interests: economics, activism, athletics, music, and more.  I did not know until the service that Lukin was an Olympic-calibre downhill skier; he in fact missed an opportunity to compete in the 1936 Olympics because of his admirable, principled refusal to join the Canadian team’s mission to the games in Nazi Germany.  An especially popular display at the service was Lukin’s RCMP file, which ran to two full binders full of intelligence and police surveillance reports gathered on this outstanding, “dangerous” Canadian.

When I first started work as a CAW economist Lukin took the time to meet me, share his experiences, offer me advice (regarding both the content of my economics, and how progressive research could be used more effectively within the labour movement), and generally encourage the whole idea of economics research occurring within unions.

Lukin was a founding and long-time member of the Progressive Economics Forum.  We collectively thank you Lukin for your immense contributions to building a progressive, activist economics community in Canada.  You will be missed.

2 comments

  • I got to know Lukin well during the days of the Waffle. He was actively involved with strong views, but was so respected that he could be unanimously chosen to chair any session likely to be acrimonious. In the 1970s I recall being with him on a panel/press conference denouncing economists, the so-called Chicago Boys, who supported Pinochet in Chile. He wrote regularly, and well, for the Canadian Forum. I last saw him at a 40th anniversary party of the Waffle in Toronto in 2009. He was, as always, sound of mind and, given his age, remarkably sound of body. Now living near Ottawa, I regret not being able to come to his memorial service.

  • marjorie griffin cohen

    Lukin was a very rare economist, in that he was a definite feminist. I met him just after I completed my Ph.D. (on the staples theory and gender) and was very active in the anti-free trade movement. He would often visit me at OISE to discuss whatever was the burning economic issue of the day. And, I think, sought me out because he liked what I was saying. How wonderful for me!

    He truly ‘got it’ that gender was not a sub-issue, but was central to an understanding of an economy. He always listened so intently, something that was new to me as a woman among economists where getting any word in was hard work.

    Years after I left Toronto and moved to BC I met his daughter Liz when I was the external examiner for her Ph.D. (in Saskatchewan). I so enjoyed the symmetry of it — to be connect through her (her last name is Quinlin, so I had no idea before going to the exam that they were related.

    Lukin was a special man, with a very good heart.

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