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The Labor Union Movement in Canada and Canadian Unions Education Department of the Canadian Labour Congress; Winnipeg General Strike-Canadian Archives;

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Presentation on theme: "The Labor Union Movement in Canada and Canadian Unions Education Department of the Canadian Labour Congress; Winnipeg General Strike-Canadian Archives;"— Presentation transcript:

1 The Labor Union Movement in Canada and Canadian Unions Education Department of the Canadian Labour Congress; Winnipeg General Strike-Canadian Archives; Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions (CFNU)

2 How Labor Unions Started in Canada… Labour unions have existed in Canada since the early 1800s. There is a record of some skilled tradesmen having a union organization in Saint John, N.B., during the War of 1812. Trade unionists say there is significance in the fact that one of the earliest records of union organization in Canada is found in legislation adopted in Nova Scotia in 1816 that made it extremely difficult for workers to form unions. The preamble to this act referred to union activity in Halifax and other parts of the province as being illegal.

3 But despite this opposition, groups of workers in many parts of the country formed their own organizations during the first half of the 1800s. These included printers in Halifax, Montreal, Quebec City, Toronto and Hamilton; shoemakers in Montreal and Hamilton; carpenters, shipwrights, seamen, stonecutters, blacksmiths, painters, bakers, tailors and others.




7 Initially, these early unions had close ties with Britain due to colonialism. Eventually these ties gave way to a closer relationship with the US trade union movement. This was the beginning of the international trade union movement. Initially, workers focused on fighting wage cuts, and the strength of these unions ebbed and flowed with the economy Gradually, however, the workers' organizations gained strength and confidence.

8 What were these early unions fighting for? A key development came in 1872 when the printers in Toronto decided to mount a vigorous campaign for the nine-hour day. They still worked a six-day week and so what they were seeking was a 54-hour week. Most Canadian workers today work a 40-hour week and some work considerably less. The Toronto printers were part of a general effort to obtain shorter hours. This was being promoted by what were known as Nine-Hour Leagues in many centres. The Toronto publishers promptly rejected the proposal and countered with a proposal for $10 for a 60-hour week -- about 16 -- cents an hour.

9 Nine-Hour League Demonstration, ONTARIO, Late 1800s

10 What did they gain and how did they gain it? The printers, led by Daniel O'Donoghue, decided to go on strike. The strike became a matter of considerable public concern in Toronto. The publishers' group was headed by George Brown, editor of The Globe and a prominent political figure of the day. Brown had consistently fought the idea of union activity by the printers. On a previous occasion, in 1854, he had invoked the law of conspiracy to lay charges against some printers who engaged in a dispute with the publishers. While the printers were found technically guilty, the judgment of a one-penny fine clearly indicated the court's opinion of the use of this legal technicality.

11 George Brown’s Globe Newspaper Office, Toronto, 1967

12 In the 1872 strike, Brown adopted the same tactics. Just before a mass demonstration in support of the strikers was to be held, he laid formal charges and had 13 of the leaders arrested. The demonstration turned into a mass protest and 10,000 people gathered before the legislative buildings in Queen's Park, Toronto.

13 ..the right to form unions Eventually the charges were dropped and the law was changed in 1872 to make unions legal in Canada. The revision of the statutes was sponsored by Sir John A. Macdonald, who saw an opportunity to embarrass his political opponent, Brown. The provision, which made workers liable to charges of conspiracy if they formed unions and acted cooperatively through them, was an old British law which had since been revised. Macdonald initiated similar action in Canada, and the right of Canadian workers to form unions and to act through them to improve their conditions was established.

14 Political Cartoon of the time, The Mail: Brown and MacDonald

15 Towards one Union Organizing Group for Canada The attempt to use the conspiracy legislation against the Toronto printers alerted all unions to the precarious position they were in. A new awareness grew of the common interest they shared in getting the type of legislation that would establish legally the right of workers to have effective organizations. As a result, in 1873, the Toronto Trades Assembly, which was an organization of Toronto unions, sent out invitations to the first national convention of Canadian unions. There were then about 100 local groups scattered about the country. The convention was attended by representatives of 31 unions, all in Ontario. The Canadian Labour Union was formed, the beginning of a national labour organization

16 …and collective bargaining Another organization that made a dramatic appearance on the Canadian labour scene, but which subsequently disappeared, was the One Big Union. This organization was centered in the West, particularly in Winnipeg, and was set up on the principle of including all workers in one organization.

17 ‘One Big Union’ was an International Movement for Worker Rights



20 The O.B.U. came into existence about the time of the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919. This is an event which holds an important place in Canadian labour history. Workers in both the building and metal trades were involved, and the issues included the right to bargain collectively and higher wage rates. The general strike was effective, but the government intervened, arresting some of the leaders and threatening to deport those who had come to Canada from other countries.

21 Winnipeg General Strike of 1919

22 The Winnipeg General Strike of 1919 was an important event in the history of Canada because it was a turning point. The strike was an illegal six week action fought by underprivileged Canadian Workers to have their right of collective bargaining recognized by the Canadian Government and by wealthy business owners. It was very threatening to the Canadian Establishment because it occurred at a time in history when similar displays of activism by the movement were leading to insurrections and revolutions. The fear of revolution generated by the strike caused the government to overreact and allow the RCMP and a force of “special constables” to brutalize demonstrators and occupy the streets until the strike was defeated

23 Winnipeg General Strike of 1919: Workers brutalized by RCMP

24 While the outcome was by no means acceptable to organized labour, the employers in the metal industry, who had previously refused to recognize the union, agreed to accept the principle of collective bargaining.

25 …and now we have the Canadian Labor Congress Meanwhile, from 1901 to 1921, a number of small unions had come into being in Quebec under the guidance of Roman Catholic clergy. In 1921, they combined to form the Canadian and Catholic Confederation of Labour, which later became the Confederation of National Trade Unions. Important developments were also taking place in the larger central body, the Trades and Labor Congress of Canada, and other groups that were formed, largely as a result of conflict between skilled trades and industrial workers In 1956, the Trades and Labor Congress of Canada and the Canadian Congress of Labour merged to form the Canadian Labour Congress. In 1911, there were some 133,000 union members in Canada. Today, the CLC represents 2.3 million unionized workers.

26 Some union basics… What is Labor Law? What is a Collective Agreement? What is the origin of the words ‘Shop Stewards’? What are some modern-day equivalents? How is the CA enforced?- a complaint; an informal process towards resolution; a formal process towards resolution; if these steps are not successful, the case is referred to an Arbitration Board

27 What did/do Unions do for Nurses? The 40 hour work week Limitations on being asked to work more than, say, 11 shifts in a row The right of ‘casual’ workers to benefits (in the context of the casualization of the nursing workforce) The right to scheduled breaks The right to representation in disputes with employers (the Collective Agreement) Wage parity with comparator male groups (eg. Police officers) Union density in the workplace is directly proportional to worker overall health around the world, including in Canada (Raphael, 2006)..the list is very long…

28 Some serious outstanding issues for Canadians and Canadian nurses: The international context--Free trade and unions---the ‘sweatshop’ The dynamic tension between worker union protection and ‘protecting the patient’- a false dichotomy?

29 The Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions (CFNU) The Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions (CFNU) was established in 1981 to facilitate interaction among nursing unions in Canada and provide a united front on issues which affect unionized Registered Nurses and the quality of health care. The CFNU was reconstituted in 1999 as the national affiliating body for nurses to the Canadian Labour Congress. The mission of the CFNU is to provide a proactive, unified, national voice for quality health care and the socio-economic welfare of nurses and others. The strategic focus of the CFNU is building a national voice for: –the role of nurses; –the protection and preservation of public health care; –the advocacy of social justice and equity; and –the development of an international network and solidarity of nurses. –HAVE A LOOK---

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