New union, new organizing strategy in Canada

The Canadian Auto Workers and the Communication, Energy, and Paperworkers Union, two of Canada’s largest unions, recently merged to create a new union intent on strengthening and modernizing the union movement and expanding the definition of what it means to be a union member.

Unifor, the name of the new union, will, according to a posting on its website, “be a union for all workers. But it will also be a union for the unemployed and self-employed, a union for women and young workers–a union for everyone. That’s its strength.”

Delegates to Unifor’s founding convention over the Labor Day weekend adopted a new constitution and laid out a path for invigorating the union movement in Canada.

“Unifor is here because it’s time to stop playing defense and start playing offense,” said Unifor’s newly elected president Jerry Dias. “It’s time to stop reacting and time to start acting. It’s time to set the agenda. We have to show our collective power.”

Like workers in the US, Canadian workers have seen there wages stagnate and working conditions erode. At the same time, more of the wealth they create has been redistributed to the country’s 1 percent.

Unifor intends to stop this trend by building a culture of organizing within the union.

With this in mind, convention delegates voted to endorse a new model for unionism proposed in a policy paper entitled Broadening Union Citizenship: Unifor’s Members in Community Chapters. These community chapters will include people not traditionally thought of as potential union members–the unemployed, precarious workers, retired people, and others.

“We want to redefine how the public defines unions,” said Roxanne Dubois, Unifor’s community chapter coordinator to the convention.

Dubois also said that more and more workers are unemployed or working at precarious jobs. When organized, these workers will share the benefits of union membership and learn how  to take collective action to improve their lives.

Dubois introduced three Unifor delegates who represent this new face of union membership: a freelance writer, a bike courier, and a member of the United Church clergy.

Gary Engler, vice-president of Local 2000 that represents media workers in British Columbia, said that his local will set up a community chapter whose members would include digital media workers such as game developers.

Most of the community chapters would be affiliated with an already existing local of Unifor.

While building community chapters will be an important focus of Unifor’s organizing efforts, its priority will be “to build density, strength, and bargaining power where our existing members work,” reads the Unifor Organizing Policy.

To do this, Unifor will strengthen its organizing department, but it will also make organizing the priority of everyone in the union including the national leadership, local leadership. union staff, and especially activists workers.

“Workers make the best organizers,” reads the organizing policy. “And other workers are more likely to join the union when they can relate to and identify with the union’s organizers. Workers talking to other workers enhances union organizing effectiveness, especially when they are from the same company, sector, community, gender, or ethno-cultural heritage. Member Organizers (taken off the job to work full-time on specific organizing drives) will also increase our organizing capacity and develop our organizing culture. The new union will, therefore, develop and train a large and diverse pool of Member Organizers in all sectors and regions to assist in organizing.”

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