Strategies for Canadian Workers and Labour Unions in the 21st Century

Published 24 Apr 2017

Every generation faces changes, so as organizations face different challenges throughout its existence. In his book, The Canadian Labour Movement: A Short Story, Heron cited that “”three waves of major changes in the organization of work: after 1840, after 1940, and after 1975,”. The story of trade and labor unions evolved in the development of organizations and has become an instrumental catalyst in the economic transformation of corporations and institutions.

Labor unions nowadays have been more responsive to different issues like equity and gender. Aside from engaging into collective bargaining agreements with employers, like negotiating work security, conditions and pay, trade unions have also been actively participating in political issues that protect their rights and interests. Towards the 21st century, a quarter of Canada’s workforce belonged to trade or labor unions (Encarta, 2008).

I am part of the multi-national company and we are compensated well in our jobs. Benefits are at hand and it seems unnecessary to heed on the bargains of trade unions. However, my personal experiences on labor unions were from the project-based employees in our company. These workers were only paid per work basis meaning. The benefits were not available to them unlike the regular staffs. With this at hand, some workers would not step up to bargain since the top management would still dictate on what pay would be given to them, given the conditions mandated by the State or country.

This brings to the idea that organizations nowadays are heading to a more competitive status as compared decades ago. Companies have to be conservative in their resources in order to survive competition and to make themselves sustainable. The challenge these organizations face also coincides with the future of labor unions. As mentioned by Errol Black and Jim Silver, the unions will have a difficult time to keep their egalitarian ideals in the face of rapid economic growth and technological change. Pressures are evident in the workplace, thus labor unions have to “reinvent” strategies to battle off problems like unemployment, downsizing and crises in management. One particular paradigm shift that companies are tackling right now is reducing work hours to create more yet temporary jobs to unemployed people (O’Hara, 1993). This may result to lower paying and non-permanent jobs, but this is seen as somehow a win-win situation for both the working masses and the company.

However, unions are still considered as a factor of economic change for the company and to the rest of the labor force. The insights and skills of the workers still hold as the organization’s biggest asset. Labor unions play a promising role to the labor scene. However, there are two propositions that Graham Lowe stated in his book, The Quality of Work: A People Centered Agenda that will keep the labor unions prosper and workers can enjoy a meaningful job amidst the changes in the economy: (1) job quality must be defined along side a wide range of dimensions and (2) the quality of jobs. Lowe, as a sociologist himself, believes that improving job quality will lessen turnovers and promote productivity, thus, giving the company in the better light. Critics may have attacked this idea, but it made sense in the view of management that truly productivity of workers has a direct positive payoff to organizations.

Successes of companies and labor workers depend on how both sides cope up with the changing environment. As Peter Drucker puts it, “it is the time to do what is for the future precisely since everything is in flux”. Unions must have innovative strategies and must also continue to empower its worker-members to have a voice in decision making to balance the overpowering management ideals. What will even bring them to a brighter future is always having a clear vision for the organization, the union and the comprising labor force.


  • 2008. Labor Unions in Canada. Microsoft Encarta.
  • Black, E., & Silver, J. (2008). Building a Better World: An Introduction to Trade Unionism in Canada. Halifax: Fernwood Publishing Co., Ltd..
  • Drucker, P. F. (1994). Post-capitalist Society. St. Louis: Butterworth-Heinemann.
  • Heron, C. (1996). The Canadian Labour Movement: A Short History. Toronto: Lorimer.
  • Lowe, G. S. (2000). The Quality of Work: A People-Centred Agenda. New York: Oxford University Press, USA.
  • O’Hara, B. (1993). Working Harder Isn’t Working. Vancouver: New Star Books.
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