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Paths to Union Renewal

Paths to Union Renewal: Canadian Experiences

Pradeep Kumar
Christopher Schenk
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 336
  • Book Info
    Paths to Union Renewal
    Book Description:

    Published Under the Garamond Imprint

    This book focuses on the efforts and progress of union revitalization and organizing, and documents the renewal initiatives undertaken by unions in Canada. Unions, separately or in coalition with other unions or social groups, have begun to re-examine the basis of their organization and activity in the face of a harsher economic and political climate. Signs of union renewal include increased rank-and-file participation in the life of the union, increased democratic decision-making, evidence of new horizontal union structures, the development of a worker-centred societal vision, and a new emphasis on organizing both internally and externally.

    Paths to Union Renewaladdresses a subject of considerable political and social importance about which there have been a number of debates. A key impetus for this re-examination has originated in the United States where decades-long union decline has engendered new ideas adopted by a number of unions and the national central labour body the AFL-CIO. This in turn has led to debates on renewal strategies in Western Europe and Anglo-Saxon countries from Britain to Australia.

    Despite this, little detailed research of the processes, structures, and implications of union renewal has been undertaken across Canada.Paths to Union Renewalfills this gap by critically examining union renewal in a variety of unions, providing a basis for informed discussion and debate on the role and place of trade unions in contemporary society.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-0223-6
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-6)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 7-8)
  3. List of Figures and Tables
    (pp. 9-10)
  4. Contributors
    (pp. 11-12)
  5. Acknowledgements
    (pp. 13-14)
    The Editors
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 15-26)

    Unions in Canada and elsewhere are at a crossroads, facing difficult challenges of adaptation, adjustment, and confrontation with a substantively different external and internal environment. Globalization, free trade, and neo-liberal policies of employers and governments constitute formidable challenges. Corporate restructuring, downsizing, employers’ increased demand for “concessions” from workers, and the rising precarious and contingent workforce remain a day-to-day experience for many workers, causing significant anxiety and insecurities. In the current environment, unions cannot afford to be complacent.

    This is particularly the case in countries where unions have experienced a substantive decrease in their membership. A range of academic books, union...

  7. Part I: Union Renewal and the State of Unions in Canada

    • Chapter 1 Union Renewal and Organizational Change: A Review of the Literature
      (pp. 29-60)

      Union renewal has been a subject of intense debate and discussion among academics and unions over the past few years. There is a growing volume of literature in the form of books, journal articles, symposium and colloquium reports, surveys, policy discussion papers, and commentaries. The writings provide a wide variety of views on challenges facing unions, their relative performance over time and across countries, and suggestions on how they can adapt to the changing external and internal environment. The literature is based on the assumption that “unions have an important degree of control over their own destiny” (Jarley, Fiorito, and...

    • Chapter 2 Rowing Against the Tide: The Struggle to Raise Union Density in a Hostile Environment
      (pp. 61-78)

      Canada is one of very few advanced industrial countries in which union density is not in sharp decline, and in which union membership is still growing in terms of absolute numbers. Canadian unions continue to make gains for their members and for all workers, and remain an important force in the workplace, in society and in politics. Set against the background of sharp union decline in the United States, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and many other broadly comparable countries, this performance by Canadian unions is quite impressive (Fairbrother and Yates 2003).

      Despite continental economic integration, one in every three...

    • Chapter 3 Innovation in Canadian Unions: Patterns, Causes and Consequences
      (pp. 79-102)

      The expressions “renewal” and “revitalization” evoke the challenges faced by labour organizations in the context of deep structural change. While the pursuit of dignity at work through actions in the workplace and beyond remains the core mission of the labour movement, it is argued that existing structures and policies must change, that the status quo is not a viable option to secure the future. This impetus to change arises, among other factors, from the globalization of economic relations, modifications in the way that production and services are organized, the shifting contours of the employment contract, and the changing nature and...

    • Chapter 4 Women are Key to Union Renewal: Lessons from the Canadian Labour Movement
      (pp. 103-112)

      These three quotes are testament to the tensions inherent in unions’ relationships to women workers. Unionshavecome a long way in their organization and representation of women workers. At the same time, unions often fail women, leaving them without union representation at all or with collective agreements that lead women to question the value of a union card and contract. Yet in today’s labour market, unions cannot afford to fail women. Women not only constitute a growing proportion of the labour force, but they also constitute the most likely source of new union membership in Canada. As will be...

    • Chapter 5 Globalization and Union Renewal: Perspectives from the Quebec Labour Movement
      (pp. 113-126)

      Globalization is changing the rules of the game between workers, their employers, and the union organizations that represent workers. It is commonly believed that these new rules tilt the playing field in favour of employers because workers and unions appear less able to effect change in the workplace and protect their terms and conditions of employment. Collective bargaining concessions, rationalization and downsizing, privatization and outsourcing, the proliferation of precarious forms of work and employment, greater flexibility in the organization and execution of work, work intensification and the associated decline in the quality of life at work are just a few...

  8. Part II: Case Studies on Union Renewal

    • Chapter 6 The BCGEU: The Road to Renewal
      (pp. 129-144)

      The B.C. Government and Service Employees Union (BCGEU) celebrated its 63rd birthday on February 19, 2005. The union has struggled with renewal in recent years and this case study outlines and analyzes the elements of that struggle.

      The BCGEU began as a “union among government employees.” It organized employees of the B.C. government service into geographic “branches.” All provincial government employees in Victoria, for example, belonged to the Victoria branch, regardless of their occupation, the government ministry in which they worked, or the particular job they performed. Branches carried out the same role as geographic locals or lodges in other...

    • Chapter 7 Union Renewal and CUPE
      (pp. 145-160)

      The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) has a long, rich, and varied history of engaging in practices that contribute to union renewal. How long, and what examples, depends on how union renewal is defined.

      Some define union renewal as programs to renew (i.e., increase) union membership by organizing unorganized workers into the union. For some American unions, concerned about drastically falling levels of unionization, union renewal programs mean devoting much of the union’s resources to organizing new members.

      Increasing union density through organizing more members is one important element of union renewal. But union renewal should also include programs...

    • Chapter 8 Union Resistance and Union Renewal in the CAW
      (pp. 161-184)

      It is fitting to be addressing the question of union renewal on the 20th anniversary of the founding of the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW). By breaking away from the U.S.-based United Auto Workers in 1985 to form an independent Canadian union, we started an exciting, risky, visionary, collective project. At a time when many unions and many progressive groups were struggling to stand still, we were building a union and shaping the future. The theme of our first collective bargaining convention reflected the mood: “We’re Building a Future Together.” Twenty years later, we are still building that future together. In...

    • Chapter 9 Rank-and-File Involvement in Policy-Making at the CEP
      (pp. 185-190)

      At its formation in 1992, the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP) made a commitment to increase the role of rank-and-file members in decision-making. The merger agreement that brought the three founding unions together established the goal of having more rank-and-file members than officers on the National Executive Board. By 1998, this objective had been reached. One consequence has been an increase in the participation of members in establishing major union policy.

      The purpose of this paper is to outline the process of decision-making the union has developed with regards to major policies, with a focus on development...

    • Chapter 10 Mobilizing Young People: A Case Study of UFCW Canada Youth Programs and Initiatives
      (pp. 191-200)

      This case study examines how the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Canada developed youth programs and initiatives and successfully raised the participation and involvement of its young membership. An ambitious and long-term plan was devised to inspire new energy and commitment within UFCW Canada leadership and rank-and-file membership. The central points of discussion will examine what the union did, how it was done, and what has been gained.

      UFCW Canada’s experience is instructive for several reasons. Its young demographic membership, combined with an aging labour movement and harsh social climate, has triggered an urgency to mobilize and organize young...

    • Chapter 11 Renewal from Different Directions: The Case of UNITE-HERE Local 75
      (pp. 201-220)

      The stagnation of union growth in Canada is usually attributed to the relative decline of highly unionized manufacturing employment and the continued low rates of unionization in expanding private sector services. As a result, we often overlook the historic and significant presence of unions in those few organized service industries such as accommodation. In Canada, hotel and tavern workers have been organized since the 1890s, but the history of hospitality unionism is uneven at best. During much of the post-war period, there were occasional bargaining and organizing victories, but these were often overshadowed by incidents of union corruption and a...

    • Chapter 12 Building Capacity for Global Action: Steelworkers’ Humanity Fund
      (pp. 221-234)

      During the 1990s, Steelworkers members working for mining companies in British Columbia found themselves dismantling equipment in Canada to ship to Chile while their managers used their lunch hours to learn Spanish. Mining sector activists felt a strong need to understand the lure of Chile. They asked themselves: what is happening in Chile? Is there somebody we can talk to?

      The Humanity Fund was the tool the Steelworkers used to find an answer to their question. That quest for an answer started a path the Steelworkers and their union partners in Chile and Peru are still walking.

      The United Steelworkers,...

  9. Part III: Unions and Community:: Campaigns and Organizing

    • Chapter 13 Community Unionism and Labour Movement Renewal: Organizing for Fair Employment
      (pp. 237-250)

      Community unionism is essential to the renewal of the Canadian labour movement. Most commonly conceived of as alliances between trade unions and community groups to organize the unorganized, community unionism includes such alliances but entails much more. It also supports the work of autonomous workers’ organizations. Increasingly, workers’ centres and other organizations mobilize workers who fall outside of contemporary labour protections, target employers who engage in unfair labour practices and pressure government to reform labour law. These efforts are emerging to address the growing segment of workers who are precariously employed—workers who are hired through a temporary employment agency...

    • Chapter 14 The Workers’ Organizing and Resource Centre in Winnipeg
      (pp. 251-260)

      It is Thursday evening in Winnipeg. The two meeting rooms at the Workers’ Organizing and Resource Centre (WORC) are full. Past and present collide as these activists plan future activities. Grass Roots Women are meeting in the Helen Armstrong room, named after a leader in the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike. Mayworks is meeting in the Lawrence Pickup room, named after a postal worker who lost his job as a result of participating in the Workers’ General Strike Committee of the historic 1919 strike. Other folks drift in. They are trade unionists, peace activists, people of colour, women. There are pensioners...

    • Chapter 15 A Community Coalition in Defense of Public Medicare
      (pp. 261-276)

      This is a case study of unions working in coalition with community groups to defend public Medicare. Although the campaign was nation-wide, this account focuses on the plans and actions that were undertaken in Ontario. In this case, unions took the lead in creating an education, organizing and mobilization campaign in response to an external catalyst. The campaign was conducted internally, in unions, but also externally, in coalitions with community groups and individual residents.

      Although there were some elements of an offensive struggle, the campaign was overwhelmingly defensive. It was not a struggle for a new social benefit, but to...

    • Chapter 16 Organizing Call Centres: The Steelworkers’ Experience
      (pp. 277-292)

      The United Steelworkers’ (USW) successful organizing in the call centre industry is a useful model for unionists seeking ways to respond to the challenges of the new economy. Working together, inside organizers and experienced professional organizers can develop winning strategies that enable unions to organize these hard-to-organize workplaces.

      The organizing strategies that have overcome the obstacles in this industry demonstrate the importance of rank-and-file organizers, whose specialized knowledge of the workplace, capacity to respond quickly and creatively to management tactics and ability to communicate effectively with their co-workers are crucial to a successful campaign. Good strategy is important, but collaborative...

  10. Part IV: Leadership Development and Education

    • Chapter 17 Increasing Inter-Union Co-operation and Co-ordination: The BC Federation of Labour Organizing Institute
      (pp. 295-306)

      As unions renew their focus on organizing, the appropriate role of central labour bodies in these efforts continues to be the subject of much debate in Canada, and recently a very sharply divided debate in the United States.

      In 1996, the British Columbia Federation of Labour decided to increase its activities in support of union recruitment by launching an Organizing Institute. The Institute is not a separate bricks-and-mortar institution, but rather an institutional initiative to increase co-operation and co-ordination in affiliate recruitment organizing activities. The Federation, a 380,000-member provincial labour central chartered by Canada’s national trade union central, the Canadian...

    • Chapter 18 Union Education, Union Leadership and Union Renewal: The Role of PEL
      (pp. 307-322)

      The past few decades have seen substantial changes in the economic, social, and political realities facing the Canadian labour movement. These changes have disrupted traditional labour-management relationships and created more diversified and fragmented union memberships. Downsizing and the increased use of flexible, part-time work have reduced union membership and created precarious environments for many workers. As well, to achieve economic streamlining and increased competitiveness, employers have become more aggressive in demanding concessions and restructuring. Faced with these realities, unions are striving to improve the services to their members and maintain the gains of past bargaining. While aggregate union membership is...

  11. Index
    (pp. 323-336)