Building the Union in Hard Times
August 20, 2009, 12:00 PM EST
The shifting industrial make-up of Canada's economy and decline in the population of unionized members poses a series of important questions and challenges in building and strengthening the labour movement for the future.
"Unions in decline risk losing their vitality," said David Robertson, CAW Director of Work Organization and Training, as he introduced the union's policy paper Building the Union in Hard Times to the over 1000 delegates of the 9th Constitutional Convention in Quebec City on August 20.
The paper highlights the changing profile of the CAW since the 1980s through four lenses: membership and sector make-up, union activities (including campaigns and community initiatives), the work of local union standing committees, and a CAW book of lists - an ongoing project that provides a detailed description of the union's work that will continue to be developed as the CAW prepares to celebrate it's 25th anniversary in 2010.
The paper starts off with the statement: "Even before the global financial crisis, unions were being hammered and many were in decline. Here, and around the world, unions faced a hostile political and economic environment."
But challenging times also provide opportunities for positive change and renewal, Robertson said. In certain cases, renewal efforts could wrongly lead unions to pare down resources and refocus their efforts entirely on workplace issues at the expense of broader social issues.
The paper calls on delegates to recognize and uphold the principles of social unionism as the cornerstone of renewal. Social unionism, while rooted in the workplace, broadens the union's focus on issues influencing the general direction of society.
"Moving members from a passive acceptance to an active engagement with their union will be the key to our success," Robertson said.
Dozens of convention delegates spoke in support of the policy paper, highlighting the importance of mobilizing members for political action, educating and organizing new members as key components of building capacity for the future.
A full copy of Building the Union in Hard Times is available at: