In January 2012, the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP) and Canadian Auto Workers Union (CAW) National Executive Boards (NEBs) adopted a joint protocol “to develop and agree upon the main principles of a new Canadian union, with a new identity and structure.”
A new union between the CAW, which represents about 200,000 workers, and CEP, which has about 125,000 members, would mark the biggest single merger in the history of the labour movement here. The CAW and CEP are already among the 10 biggest unions in Canada. It will be the largest union in the private sector in the country and it would have members across a wide range of workplaces in the public sector.
The new union will be diverse, among its members are tens of thousands of aboriginal and workers of colour. In addition, the new union will have more than 86,000 women members, a figure larger than the entire membership of many unions.
Trade union membership has been falling steadily as a share of total employment in Canada since the late 1970s – from just under 40%, to around 30% today. This reflects the attack on unionization that has been a key feature of neoliberal policy over that entire period. However, the ‘Towards a New Union” document states that a “10-point decline in overall unionization understates the true extent of the problem we face. Unionization in public-sector occupations (including broader public sector services, such as health care and education) has remained steady, at around 75% of all workers.”
In the private sector of the Canadian econom unions are literally ‘fighting for their lives’. Unionization in Canada has declined to 17% of private-sector employees, and falling. Private sector union density is just half of its peak in the late 1970s. De-unionization in Canada’s private sector is following the same trend as the U.S. where less than 7% of private sector workers now have the protection of a union.
The Proposal Committee was charged with “consulting the membership and leadership bodies according to the democratic requirements and the constitutional authority of each union” and to prepare a draft report by July 15, 2012 that would be submitted to the CAW convention in August 2012 and to the CEP convention in October 2012.
A new Canadian union is described as having the potential to better represent union members, organize and build union power, and, to revitalize and renew the Canadian labour movement. It will be a profoundly democratic union with local unions meeting together in their regions and in annual councils of all local unions across the country. The elected leadership will be overwhelmingly made up of rank and file leaders, and there will be strong leadership commitments to gender equity and diversity.
The final report from the joint Proposal Committee process provides a blueprint for the new union. It will be voted on by delegates to the CAW convention – August 20-24, and the CEP convention – October 14-17.
USi looks forward to reporting and discussing with some of the key players in the coming months the huge potential of this new union – subject to the endorsement of the members – to fightback for working men and women.
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