Canadian unions then and now, january, 2013 beijing
Canadian Unions: Then and Now History, Current Situation and Future in the Context of Globalization And the Neoliberal Agenda(using CAW and auto bargaining as a case study) By Cathy Walker, Former Director, Health, Safety and Environment Department, CAW Beijing, January 2013International Conference on the Current Situation and Development Of Labor Relations under Globalization
Purpose of unions• Organize workers collectively to represent the interests of workers and the working class• Erode the power of capital in favour of workers and the working class• We organize in the workplace, in the community and throughout the country• For better treatment for workers and the working class by employers and the government• Has our purpose changed over the years?• Let’s explore this issue during this discussion
Let’s take a look at what we did inthe past, and determine if it is still relevant
Canadian Labour History, 6 eras• Beginnings of industrial revolution in Canada, mid-19th Century;• Workers united to resist power of capital by late 19th Century• Workers’ revolt, early 20th Century• Organizing in the Great Depression, 1929- 1939• Labour gains in World War II, 1939-45• Post – war years (up to 1976) and the labour movement today
Beginnings of industrial revolution in Canada, mid-19 th Century andworkers united to resist power of capital in late 19th Century Why? What characterized work back then?
1850-early 1900s industrial revolution in Canada• Working conditions were terrible, hours were long and work was very unsafe; many workers were killed or maimed• Wages were very low and the standard of living very poor• Worst work was done by immigrant labour• Work included building of canals, railways, factories and was heavily resource based in Western Canada
Coal mines were dangerous, for children as well as adults• Coal mines were incredibly dangerous places to work throughout Canada with thousands of men and children dying in explosions• Springhill, Nova Scotia, February 21, 1891 (among 125 miners killed in an explosion) Alexander Bunt - 15 Ernest Chandler - 16 Thomas Davis - 15 Joseph Dupee - 12 John Dunn - 13 Roger Ernest - 15 James Johnston - 16 George Martin - 14 David McVey - 16 James McVey - 14 James Pequinot - 15 Peter Reid - 13 Ross Murdoch - 16 Philip Ross - 14 Edward Smith - 14 Douglas Taylor - 16
What did workers do to resist? Were unions legal then?• They organized for the 9, then the 8 hour day• They organized into unions, even though they were illegal• They demonstrated and struck
Early struggles hard-fought• Employers threatened and fired workers for forming unions• Employers hired thugs to beat workers• Governments used army and police to beat and imprison workers• Employers and governments used courts to imprison unionists, grant injunctions against picketing and financially cripple unions
20th Century, Workers Revolt• What international event inspired workers in the early part of the 20th Century?
Workers revolt, early 20th Century, inspired by Russian Revolution, 1905 and 1917
What was the Canadian workforce like back then?• Poor, badly paid, working long hours in often dangerous working conditions• And angry about unfair treatment
It was their untimely deaths andinjuries that brought us the workers’ compensation system in 1914
What was the effect of the RussianRevolution on Canadian workers? An inspiration to fight back
Canada’s first general strike, 1918• Canada’s first general strike (called a one day labour holiday by the organizers) occurred following the murder of labour leader, Ginger Goodwin, in 1918, at the Cumberland coal mines on Vancouver Island
1919• 150,000 workers on strike in various workplaces across the country• Many unions opposed to capitalism and imperialism and inspired by Russian Revolution
1919• 150,000 workers on strike in various workplaces across the country• Many unions opposed to capitalism and imperialism and inspired by Russian Revolution
One Big Union• Founded in Calgary in 1919• The OBUs anti-capitalist policy was evident by its constitutions preamble:• “The O.B.U. ... seeks to organize the wage worker nor according to craft but according to industry; according to class and class needs; and calls upon all workers irrespective of nationality, sex, or craft to organize into a workers organization, so that they may be enabled to more successfully carry on the everyday fight over wages, hours of work, etc. and prepare themselves for the day when production for profit shall be replaced by production of use.”
1919 Winnipeg General Strike May 15 – June 26• Workers demanded union recognition and higher wages• Employers, vigilantes and government fought them• Sympathy strikes in Brandon, Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Prince Albert, Regina, Vancouver, New Westminster, Victoria, and in as many as 20 other towns• Police attacked the Winnipeg strikers, arresting and injuring many, and killing two• Federal government intervened, deported many strikers
Have we had a general strike in Canada recently?• Why not?• Do we lack issues?• Do we lack inspiration?• Do we lack courage?
Women workers• Canada was largely a sexist society which discriminated against women• They had the worst and hardest jobs and promotions were denied them because they were women• Canadian women workers were paid less than Canadian men
Women munitions plant workers, World War I (1914-1918)
Minimum wage laws, 1918• For women only and only in some occupations• The right to vote was won in 1918
1920s, despite unemployment • Unions are weaker when jobs are scarce • But when employers imposed wage cuts of 37% in Cape Breton and fired union leaders, coal miners fought back in a 5 year wave of strikes (1922 to 1927) • Police and militia used against strikers • Much public support for miners across the country • They finally won union recognition and restored most of their standard of living • Federal government forced to restrict use of military in strikes.
JB MacLaughlan• Led the Cape Breton miners, despite the US- based union’s lack of support• Member of Communist Party till 1936
Great Depression, 1929 - 1939• Huge numbers of unemployed, about 30% of workforce• Many rode on top of railroad boxcars from coast to coast looking for work• Workers, especially led by Communist Party through the Workers’ Unity League (1928 to 1935), fought back and won many strikes• 1937, 10,000 workers, many women, struck Dominion Textile in Quebec. Quebec government enacted most repressive labour legislation in country.
Oshawa, 1937• One of most significant strikes in Canadian history• 4,000 auto assembly plant workers at General Motors plant in Oshawa went on strike for union recognition of United Auto Workers (UAW)• Demands: – Union recognition – 8 hour day – Better wages and working conditions – Seniority system to eliminate favouritism• Union won union recognition and improvements in other areas after 2 weeks; company concerned about losing market share
World War II• Labour shortages due to workers going to war overseas led to increased power of unions• By 1943, strikes had exploded and more workers were on strike than in 1919• Big successful strikes of miners and steelworkers• Public opinion shifted in favour of workers• Labour laws improved for unions in 1944• And for all workers, e.g. Unemployment Insurance, 1940
Women Shop Stewards Burrard Dry Dock, North Vancouver, WWII
1945 Ford strike• Context, during WWII, there was a shortage of labour making unions more powerful• 17,000 Windsor, Ontario auto workers struck for 99 days for union recognition and won• Result was the Rand formula imposed by Justice Rand: all workers must pay union dues (automatic check-off) and in exchange union must represent all workers
Post – war years: *Cold War *diminished role of CP*improved standard of living *new social programs (CPP, Medicare) *many wildcat strikes
Steel strike Hamilton 1946Hamilton Mayor Sam Lawrence (White Shoes and Hat) marching in Stelco strikers parade, 1946 Strike
Cold War• Industrial unions in Canada were controlled from the United States.• Communist Party members still led many industrial unions in Canada and actively and successfully organized workers in the late 1940s and 1950s• But Cold War politics meant Communist Party union leadership began to be expelled from many trade unions and leadership went to CCF ( the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation which was social democratic) supporters.• 1956 Canadian Labour Congress founded from former competing central labour bodies.• Fights against CP leadership in various unions extended into 1960s and the CP leaders mostly lost.
Ideology• The post World War II period saw an expanding economy with more jobs;• Workers’ standard of living steadily increased and consumer goods became affordable• It became harder to convince workers that capitalism was a fundamental problem when workers felt their lives were improving• Capitalist ideology in education, the media and the workplace actively tried to persuade workers that their interests were the same as the owners• This is ‘false consciousness’ when workers don’t realize that their interests are fundamentally different from the employers.
Communist Party influence diminished while CCF influence increased • Cold War propaganda made most workers fear the Soviet Union and the Canadian CP remained very close to the Soviet Union • Most workers stopped feeling that a revolution was necessary and that socialist ideas such as medicare could be achieved through supporting the CCF
Influx of Women Workers• Beginning in 1960s women began working more than ever before so that by the 1980s, 56% of women worked, comprising 42% of the Canadian workforce.• By mid 1980s, Canadian trade unions had 35% women members.
1960s• Collective agreements: unions guarantee there will be no strikes during the term of the agreement (usually 3 years)• But in the 1960s, wild-cat strikes were a growing phenomenon; indeed, these strikes accounted for one third of disputes reported in 1966. Workers ignored the legalities of their contracts and struck to protest speed-ups on the assembly line, the firing of a fellow worker, and slow resolution of grievances or contract negotiations.
Improvements in the 1960s in law or collective agreements• Two day weekends became standard• Two week paid vacations were required by law• One day paid holidays for Christmas and other holidays, 8 per year• Overtime pay of time and one half if work over 44-48 hours per week
Social programs introduced• Canada Pension Plan, 1965: federal government run, for all working Canadians, paid for by employers and workers compulsory payment; benefits according to income• Medicare, 1966: all Canadians receive free doctor visits and treatment at hospital (note: no drugs away from hospital and no dental)• 1971, Unemployment Insurance plan greatly improved: 42 weeks of benefit for 10 weeks of work and 15 weeks sickness and maternity benefits added (benefits have been mostly cut back during the 1990s and 2000s, except for parental leave being extended to 35 weeks in 2001)
Occupational Health and Safety• Labour militancy of early 1970s including many strikes over unsafe and unhealthy workplaces led to new occupational health and safety laws protecting workers• These laws are based on three fundamental rights for workers: to participate in joint worker and management occupational heath and safety committees; to know about workplace hazards; and to refuse unsafe work.• More employer responsibility
1972• Common front of Quebec unions, largest strike in Canadian history (250,000 workers) calling for major wage increases (context: high inflation) and improved working conditions• Started in public sector and spread to sympathy strikes in private sector• Confrontations with police• Union leaders were arrested and jailed• Public pressure led to their early release (4 months instead of one year)
Wage controls• In context of oil stagflation and high inflation• In response to labour militancy of early 1970s fighting inflation and unsafe and unhealthy work through strikes,• Federal government imposed wage controls, October 14, 1975• Response to government wage controls, day of protest, October 14, 1976, one million workers participated across the country
October 2008 recessionProtesting layoffs in Hamilton
Many jobs have left Canada as a result of free trade agreements• After 1985 to the Southern United States (FTA)• After 1989 to Mexico (NAFTA)• After 1989 to China and many other countries (WTO)• The union response to the corporate agenda of free trade and globalization is international working class solidarity• Workers’ interests are the same throughout the world
It’s important to get to know Chinese workers and union through exchanges
Harvard’s Elaine Bernard and UCLA’s Kent Wong:• “China has undergone tremendous change in the past few decades…In this context of change, would not more worker-to-worker and union-to-union exchange be positive? Through more dialogue with Chinese workers and unions, the …labour movement could promote mutually beneficial labour solidarity, move beyond the cold war and unilateralism, and refocus attention on the domestic and global corporations and associated institutions that are, in fact, the main threat to workers throughout the world.”
Today, 30% of Canadian workers are in unions (high was 1982 with 39%)• The public sector has 71% of workers in unions• But today the private sector has only 16% of workers in unions• Manufacturing, resource industries employ fewer people• Workers in the service sector are hard to organize because employers threaten and intimidate workers if they talk about joining a union
Today, 70% of workers in unions are in Canadian unions
Most workers now in Canadian Unions• In 1970, only 30% of workers who were members of unions in Canada were members of Canadian unions. The rest were members of conservative, American-based unions.• Today, it’s the opposite. 70% of all workers who are members of unions in Canada, are members of Canadian unions. The rest are members of American-based unions.• Canadian workers now control most of their own unions.
What is the union response to globalization and neoliberalism at the bargaining table?• Concessions?• Or strikes and fight backs?• Let’s look again at CAW bargaining with the Detroit Big 3 automobile manufacturers
1985, CAW left UAW overconcession bargaining in US
When was the last strike against General Motors in Canada and what was the issue?• 1996• Contracting out and speed up
2012 bargaining• Traded wage increases and cost-of-living increases for lump sum bonuses• Increased the time for new workers to attain top rate to 10 years (had been 18 months in 1985)• Eroded benefits and vacations
Why didn’t the CAW strike against concessions in 2008 or 2012 bargaining?• Context of 2008 recession and government requirements for concessions from unions in exchange for bail-outs of Detroit Big 3 automobile manufacturers• Very high Canadian dollar (over-valued by 20- 25%) makes manufacturing here harder and less competitive• Were the gains of the past too out of line with the lack of gains by other unions and workers?
Have we lost our way?Why are concessions happening now? • Would the unions of 1919 have struck? • Would the unions of 1937 have struck? • Would the unions of 1985 have struck?
Concessions do what?• Protect jobs? Provide job security?• No, it hasn’t worked in the past and won’t in the future.• In fact they increase inequality and leave corporations less interested in investment. They dampen demand for products because of decreased buying power.
Concessions do what?• Exert no pressure on automobile industry to shift production to sustainable products, from electric cars to wind turbines• Remember auto factories during World War II were converted quickly into war production, and back again.
Concessions do what?• Make the union movement seem irrelevant• Why do you need a union to negotiate deferred or non-existent wage increases? The boss will do that for free – no need to pay union dues.• The union movement needs to recapture the vision of the last two hundred years. Dare to dream to demand a new and relevant economy to improve society and the environment.
Concessions do what?• Let private industry amass more capital which they leave unused in their corporate coffers or squander on ponzi schemes• Governments should be massively investing in a sound, sustainable economy, including infrastructure and public services, with public ownership for the public good.
New Union Project• CAW and CEP (Chemical Energy and Paper Workers) unions will found a new union August 2013• Since 1944 unions have been defined by government certification• The new union will define itself: unemployed workers, workers in workplaces where the union is not yet certified, young people, and precarious or temporary workers will be able to join the union
New Union• Committed to be a relevant force fighting on behalf of all working Canadians• Drawing on the fundamental roots of union organizing in Canada• Has the potential to be very exciting and a genuine reinvigoration of the union movement
Trade unions• Are the defense organizations of the working class.• They defend workers against oppression and exploitation by employers.• But they are also something more.• They are actors for social, political and economic change.• Depending on their courage, their efforts and their ideology as well as the specific material conditions, their effects on human society can be profound.