Straight Talk on the Future of the Labour Movement in Canada

November 17, 2012

One of the biggest events in the Canadian labour movement recently was the announcement two of Canada’s largest unions, the CAW and CEP, were exploring a merger. CEP President Dave Coles and CAW BC Area Director Susan Spratt came to MoveUP convention on Saturday to talk about the process, the ideas behind the merger, and what this means for the future of the labour movement in Canada.

Talking about why what they’re calling "The New Union Project" came about, Coles explained: “It was a direct result of the recession … the great recession of 2007, 2008 and 2009 where tens of thousands of Canadian workers, both in the private and public sector, in many cases lost their jobs, had their pensions significantly damaged.”

“We had to find a response and governments were dog-piling on us, not just in Canada and the U.S. but around the world, and they’re continuing to do that," Coles added.

Coles and Spratt see the project as more about building a broader movement than just merging into a bigger union that will do business as usual:

“We’re going to open up, in the new union, access to anyone who wants to belong, who isn’t already in a union: the unemployed, those in precarious employment, those where we can’t get a majority, and students. We thought if we became more of a movement than a union, we could build power," said Coles.

Although many logistics are being worked out, the new union is committed to making those members real members, not associate or adjunct members. Coles also explained that they would ensure the national executive board would reflect the gender balance in the union.

“We are going to ensure that everything we do is done through an equity lens," Coles said.

Spratt added: “It’s pretty invigorating to know that this new union that we’re building will have 86,000 women, which is larger than some unions in Canada … women will bring a different mood and a different comment and a different fightback campaign.”

Spratt talked about one of the processes the unions are going through in deciding how to expand involvement of retirees. She noted that retirees have always been very involved in the CAW and it’s very important to keep them involved, especially as governments attack programs for seniors and retirees like OAS and CPP.

Coles emphasized the importance of continuing and expanding political action among union members: “Our view is that we have to engage in politics at every level of society, right from the debate over the garbage dump to the election of the Prime Minister … You have to be deeply involved in politics if you’re truly going to represent your membership”

Spratt echoed his remarks: "“We need all of us. When we have an election it’s not good enough to go to the same 30 people who canvass every time – we need thousands of people across the country”

To conclude, Spratt summed up why the "New Union Project" is so needed: “If we want to have the power and don’t want to end up with majority conservative governments and governments that want to wipe us off the face of the earth, I believe we all have to work collectively together.”