Over the years unions have been subject to a great deal
of negative press. A campaign has been waged against unions to undermine the
importance of concerted organization. Unions have been accused of being
irrelevant in today’s labour market, of harming employers and damaging the
economy. Of course, none of these accusations can withstand more than a modicum
of scrutiny. This will be discussed in future posts, but for the moment we
thought it would be appropriate to remind people that we all have a lot to thank
unions for. Below are but some of the myriad benefits the labour movement has
brought to all workers, unionized or not.
Nine-Hour Movement was an international workers’ effort to secure shorter
working days. Beginning in Hamilton in 1872, the demand for the 9-hour day spread
to other cities and provinces. The Nine-Hour Movement marked the first time
Canadian labour organized. Out of this Movement came a unified protest, tactics
of resistance, and persuasive “working-class” leaders. The Nine-Hour Movement united
union and non-union workers.
the Nine-Hour Movement ultimately failed to achieve its ends, it was not a
complete failure. The Movement represented a crucial beginning in the
recognition of the labour community’s capacity for self-governance. Immediately
after the 1872 Movement, working-class activists won major concessions, such as
the passage of laws strengthening workers’ bargaining position with employers. Laws
were passed to legalize unionization, and Canada was also made one of the first
countries in the world to limit the work-day.
could be argued that at least partially based on the impression and awareness
of the common interests of the labour community raised by the Nine-Hour
Movement, Canada ratified the International Labour Organization Convention of
1919. The Convention secured a 48-hour work week for all Canadian workers, with
some limited exceptions.
Unionization was legalized, the protests of 1872 became an annual event. After
the U.S. also adopted the annual event, it became known as “Labour Day”.
The “Union Threat Effect”
common knowledge that unionization and collective bargaining has a positive
impact on workers’ wages, but it’s less commonly known that unionization also
has many positive impacts on wages for non-union workers.
where most of the workplaces are unionized, there is often a spillover benefit
to non-union workers from the accomplishments unionized workers have fought to
attain. To forestall unionization, employers of non-unionized workers often
meet union standards or, at least, improve the compensation they provide and
labour practices they follow beyond what they would have otherwise provided if
there had been no union presence. This is sometimes called the “union threat
Leading by Example
always need a threat hanging over them in order for working conditions to
improve for all workers. Through union efforts workplace norms and practices
have been established that have become standard throughout the economy. Working
conditions and wages have been improved for the whole workforce. Union
wage-setting have set wage standards that all workers have come to expect from
which those for pension and health care, were first attained in the union
sector. These benefits then became more standardized so that we now frequently
see non-union workers enjoying these benefits. The grievance procedures used by
unions, which afford due process in the workplace, have often been imitated in
non-union workplaces. This provides all workers with greater workplace rights,
protections and job security.