As one of the most powerful men in Louisiana, Victor Bussie often reminded people he almost ended up a school dropout because his family could not afford the costs of textbooks for him and his siblings.
Speaking last year at a Louisiana Democratic Party dinner, Bussie emotionally recalled when Huey P. Long became governor and provided free textbooks for Louisiana schoolchildren.
In that room, at age 91, Bussie held a large audience with the story of how his own storied career had been at risk of being derailed, for lack of what Louisiana families have come to take for granted. And he reminded his listeners that such gains were not offered up by the power structure of the time, but were the consequence of working families banding together in common cause.
The pillar of the labor movement for decades in Louisiana died with the pure faith of those days still burning in him.
He started as a firefighter, and his leadership qualities advanced him in the labor movement to the presidency of the Louisiana AFL-CIO.
Bussie’s career included both the highest point of labor’s influence in state politics and policy and also its nadir, when under the pressure of extraordinary events, a “right to work” law was passed in 1976 that marked a turning point in the influence of unions.
Then and later, however, power swirled around him in the busy corridors of the State Capitol. If he was a crusader for his causes, Bussie was also a canny negotiator, soft-spoken and open to compromise to make gains for working people.
Across the political spectrum, he was respected for his gentlemanly behavior in the midst of passions that provoked others.
Bussie was nationally respected in the labor movement and had many friends among influential national figures. He served as an elder statesman on state college boards, earning the esteem of his colleagues, whatever their political views.
He will be missed.