Thursday May 2, 2002

For more than a century, organizing has been the lifeblood of the union movement. Beginning with the early craft unions, to the mass industrial organizing of the 30's and 40's, to the sweeping unionization of the public sector in the 1960's, our movement has changed to reflect new forces in the economy. In the process we have won laws that uphold workers rights to organize and bargain collectively with their employer.

In Ontario, the level of unionization peaked at 35% in 1988. Since then, it has fallen every year. Unionized manufacturing jobs were decimated by free trade and public sector jobs have been cut relentlessly by right-wing governments. There is a growing trend to transform secure, steady employment into contingent and casual work. Today, only 1 in 4 workers in the Toronto area has the protection of a union.

Changes to labour law by the Ontario Conservatives have made organizing much more difficult. Applications for certification often face employer interference and intimidation during the seven days leading to the vote. Firings and illegal reprisals are no longer discouraged by automatic certification. Scabbing and professional strikebreaking firms make attaining a first contract more difficult especially in smaller workplaces.

Despite the obstacles, workers are still choosing to join unions. But the numbers are not enough to maintain levels of union density we are losing the war of attrition. We need to reverse this trend, and bring a union voice to tens of thousands of unrepresented workers in the Toronto area. The majority of those without unions are workers of colour, many of whom have rich experience in struggle either here or in other countries. There is great potential, but the labour movement has to accept the challenge and do so immediately.

While direct organizing is not the mandate of the Labour Council, we can play a vital role in developing an organizing agenda for the labour movement in Toronto. Collectively, our Council and its affiliates have tremendous resources that could be brought behind any organizing effort. With connections in every neighbourhood and every community, we can take a strong positive message about the benefits of belonging to a union to unrepresented workers in all sectors. Information can be exchanged, experience passed on, and translations provided to assist unions in mounting effective organizing drives.

After a certificate is issued, we can deliver effective picketline solidarity to help win the first contract. And then we can let others know about the gains made by new union members, and continue the process. Organizing is not easy but it is an essential task if we are to keep our movement strong.

The Executive recommends that the Labour Council:

  • Convene a roundtable meeting of organizers from all interested affiliates to explore opportunities to help create a positive organizing climate in the region
  • Begin to create stories for local media, particularly diverse language media, about the benefits of belonging to a union
  • Begin to create a pool of activists with different language skills to assist in translation for union drives
  • Engage senior leadership of affiliates in a dialogue about the potential role of local unions in helping to organize the unorganized
  • Encourage affiliates to devote more resources to organizing
  • Celebrate organizing victories in our newsletter and website

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