Canada’s workforce has substantially changed since the days of craft unions. The country has seen the near extinction of the sole family wage earner, who was the single white male head of household, to all adult members of the family unit working for a family wage. This change in the workforce demographic now has women accounting for 45% of the paid workforce. (Lowe, 2000, p.166) An increasing number of Canadians are working in temporary and contract positions while the Canadian economy shifts from mainly resource based to more of a service industry economy with retail and services accounting for 26% of total employment. (Lowe, 2000, p. 68, 162)
Unions have experienced a shift from allowing only white, English speaking men into their ranks to seeking women as both members and leaders of the organization. Unions are no longer mainly craft specific but are opting for an inclusionary practice that will involve all potential members under the union banner. Unions have also seen a shift from being transcontinental to becoming more national to address the unique concerns of the Canadian worker. These changes were just the beginning and the union is facing even greater current challenges with the effects of globalization and seeking additional members from the marginal workers.
The question of quality work will intensify over the next century and unions need to focus their attention on this critical issue. Heron reminds unions that they need to avoid being seen as protecting the wages of current workers by focusing on broader issues of work quality, healthier and safer workplaces, skill upgrading, fair job distribution and worker input into decision making. (Heron, 2006, p. 165) Lowe supports this position by stating that quality work rests on four pillars: work that is fulfilling and meaningful to workers personally, work that provides a decent standard of living and including economic security and trust, work that allows for a healthy lifestyle and work-life balance, and work that provides workers with active participation in decision-making. (Lowe, 2000, p. 174)
The changing nature of the Canadian workplace means the definitions of quality work will most likely continue to evolve. The union should continually have membership feedback and dialogue to tailor their agendas to meet their changing needs. Additional responses for the union’s fundamental strategies of fulfilling, meaningful work, skills upgrading, meeting standards of living and work-life balance will continually increase as the workplace moves towards globalization. The union needs to protect these key elements for Canadian workers and influence corporate strategies through robust transnational collective agreements.
Union and membership solidarity has and will continue to be a challenge for the labour movement and as we have seen in this course, unions did not actively seek a truly diverse membership until relatively recently. As Heron shows, there is a need for unions to develop a broader sense of solidarity and he urges an industry-wide approach with coordination between unions which will enable workplace reforms. (Heron, 2006, p. 165) The inclusion of the marginally employed worker is vital to the future of the trade union. (Heron, 2006, p. 169)
Black and Silver argue the impractically and expense of organizing and negotiating collective agreements for small groups of workers but they agree it is workers in small, isolated workplaces such as franchised retail or small businesses that require union representation. (Black and Silver, 2001, p. 170) Their solution to maintain the support and increase member solidarity is to become increasingly democratic, transparent, and representative of the diverse modern workforce. (Black and Silver, 2001, p. 173-175) Heron highlights the need for the union’s role “to acknowledge this composition of working-class life in Canada and to develop effective strategies for organizing and representing the new workers.” (Heron, 2006, p. 166)