Bob White came to Canada at age 13. He worked for Hay and Co in Woodstock, Ontario, and by 1959 had become president of the United Automobile Workers Local 636. He was appointed UAW international representative, and in 1964 coordinator of organizing staff.
In 1972, he became assistant to UAW director Dennis McDermott. He travelled across Canada to mobilize protests against the federal wage-control program. In 1984, he led the UAW opposition to corporate demands for wage concessions and negotiated a new contract with General Motors, a process that was documented in Robert Collinson and Sturla Gunnarsson’s Genie Award-winning film Final Offer (1985). Firmly believing that the Canadian wing of the UAW should act primarily in the interest of its 120,000 Canadian workers, White led the Canadian members in a strike and eventually a secession movement from the American UAW, forming the Canadian Auto Workers union. White left the CAW in 1992 when he was elected president of the Canadian Labour Congress. He was re-elected in 1994 and 1996 and retired in 1999. White served as president of the Trade Union Advisory Committee (TUAC) of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and was the chair of the Commonwealth Trade Union Council and of the Human and Trade Union Rights Committee of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. He was also VP of the New Democratic Party. In 1990, White was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada.