ARTICLE The Historical and Contemporary Life-Value of the Canadian Labour Movement Jeff Noonan THE CANADIAN LABOUR MOVEMENT faces a three-dimensional crisis. Falling rates of union density, combined with intensifying legal impediments to strike action in the context of growing competition between workers as a result of weak labour markets, threaten the social and political power of orga- nized labour. The percentage of unionized workers has fallen from 33.7 per cent in 1999 to 29.7 per cent in 2011, with only 16 per cent of workers in the private sector now members of unions.' Those that remain are facing more legal impediments to effective job action, as employers and governments con- spire to strip away the right to strike and to facilitate the use of replacement workers where striking is not short-circuited by legislation. Where militant job action is successfully initiated, many private sector employers have the option of closing shop and reopening it in a non-union jurisdiction, as Electro- Motive workers in London discovered in the winter of 2012.^ Unions are also facing new hurdles in organizing historically unorganized workers. Witness the Supreme Court of Canada's April 2011 decision against the United Food and Commercial Workers' attempt to unionize farm workers.^ 1. Sharanjit Uppal, "Unionization, 2011," Statistics Canada, 26 October 2011,1, 8 . statcan.gc.ca/pub/75-001-x/2011004/article/11579-eng.htm (18 December 2012). 2. Greg Keenan, "Caterpillar Pulls Plug on London Plant," The Globe andMail on the Web, 3 February 2012 - plant/article2325356 (19 May 2012). 3.United Food and Conimercial Workers, "The Struggle Continues,"UnitedFoodandCommercialWorkers'Website,2011article&id=2340&Itemid=316&lang=en(14May2011). .Jeff Noonan, "The Historical and Contemporary Life-Value of the Canadian LabourMnvempnt,"I.ahnur/l.eTravail,71(Spring2013),9-27.
10 / LABOUR/LE TRAVAIL 71These crises should be understood in the context of a set of more perva-sive life-crises caused by the neo-liberal assault on wage and job security, taxreductions for corporations and the wealthy, defunding ofpublicinstitutions,and relaxation of regulations on capital, commodity, financial, and labourmarkets.* The union movement has not always mounted a coherent responseto these challenges. As Greg Albo argues, "the period of neo-liberalism hasdepended upon - and meant - the organizational, economic, and politicalimpasse of the union movement. It exposed the limits of the union movementin the core capitalist countries: the ideological failure to grasp the nature ofneo-liberal globalization, and union strategic and organizational capacities inregard to it."^ One might go further and worry whether this "impasse" hasnot exposed the limits of the broader labour movement and progressive forcesgenerally. The broader labour movement includes groups such as unemployedworkers' groups, workers' centres, and workers' assemblies, elements of socialdemocratic parties which remain committed to workers' struggles, commu-nity groups active in immigrant workers' communities, unorganized workerswho are nevertheless politically active around workplace and social issues,feminist and environmental groups concerned with the condition of womenin the workplace and the potential for workers to become leaders for sustain-able development, and small left groups struggling to build a basis of supportamongstworkers.This crisis of organized labour, of the broader labour move-ment, and of progressive forces generally has meant a steady erosion in thecommitment of contemporary Canadian society to recognize and providethe fundamental natural and social goods that its citizens as human beingsrequire.. Neo-liberalism has systematically targeted the gains made by workingpeople and oppressed and excluded minorities in the struggle for socialjustice. From the life-value perspective in which this argument is grounded,
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- Julie Guard
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