Sei sulla pagina 1di 24

Jackson, A. (2010a). Is there a future for Canadian unions? In A. Jackson, Work and labour in Canada:

Critical issues. Toronto, ON: Canadian Scholars' Press/Women's Press, pp. 223-242. Copyright © 2010 Andrew Jackson and Canadian Scholars' Press Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be photocopied, reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, or otherwise, without the written permission of Canadian Scholars' Press Inc., except for brief passages quoted for review purposes. In the case of photocopying, a licence may be obtained from Access Copyright.

brief passages quoted for review purposes. In the case of photocopying, a licence may be obtained


Work and Labour in Canada

The average size of new bargaining units is small: 50-70 members in Ontario since the mid-1990s, and just 30-40 members in B.C. There is evidence of relative success among women workers and workers of colour, and more new organizing in services, especially health and welfare services (Yates 2000, 2003). In B.C. (where the data are most complete), more than 50,000 workers were organized into unions from 1997 to 2002, of whom just one in six worked in the resource and manufacturing sectors. Large private-sector industrial unions, like the CAW-Canada and United Steelworkers (USW), have continued to add new members alongside the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE), and other public-sector unions, but many of thesenew members have been in services, especially the broader public sector, rather than in areas of traditional blue-collar industrial jurisdiction. Large unions have also grown through mergers In most years, from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, union growth from new certi- fications offset stagnant or declining union membership in already unionized work- places, accounting for almost all absolute membership growth. Since the mid-1990s, union membership in already unionized workplaces seems to have grown as well. New organizing in Canada has been far from negligible and has made an important difference to union density, but it has been a case of rowing against the tide of forces working against unions in the job market as a whole. Observers have often drawn a contrast between an organizing as opposed to servic- ing model of trade unionism related to a social movement, as opposed to a business union model of what unions are about. While overdrawn, the servicing and business union model stands for the bureaucratic, top-down structures, member passivity, and lack of activism and interest in organizing that were often the results of stable industrial relations in long-unionized firms and sectors in the 1960s and 1970s. Some unions were not particularly concerned about an overall fall in union density or building links to the wider community so long as their own membership was stable and members were making gains at the bargaining table. However, falling overall union strength tends to reach a tipping-point, at which time even long-unionized employers will take a much harder line in bargaining or will seek to become non-union because of increased competition from lower cost, non-union employers. In the U.S., the central labour body, the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), was quite complacent about union density decline through much of the 1970s and into the 1980s, but this turned to alarm as the absolute number of union members began to fall, and as slipping density began to tum into a downward spiral. By the mid-1990s, almost all American unions recognized that new organizing was absolutely key to survival. The commitment of unions to organizing newmembers will be strongly influenced not just by threats to union security in already unionized sectors,-but also by whether leaders, activists, and members see themselves as part of a broader labour movement linked to a wider movement for social and economic change. At their best, unions have been concerned about improving conditions for all workers, not just the narrow union elite. Historically, union expansion has come in big waves as a growing labour movement has rapidly expanded into many workplaces over a very short period. In Canada, there were two big waves of union growth. The first was during and just