Unionism, done differently

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Progressive voices in this country will soon have a new ally and a new way to come together as two of Canada's leading unions join forces.

These are challenging times for those of us who want to go beyond preserving what is best about this country, but build on it to make Canada a more equitable and more democratic society.

We have leaders in both politics and business who tell us that we can't afford to care for one another, and even claim that Canada only thrives when we compete against each other for scarce jobs and opportunities.

The Canadian Auto Workers union and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union don't agree, and that's why we are coming together Labour Day weekend to form not only a new union -- Unifor -- but a new kind of union.

Unions merging isn't new. CEP itself was born a generation ago out of the joining of three distinct unions who saw the value is working together. Since its founding in 1985, CAW has in turn merged with more than 40 other unions to more than double in size.

But this is different. This is about a new approach to unionism and activism. Through community chapters, Unifor will break out of the bounds of traditional unionism to represent any group, however small or large, that wants to band together to improve things in their workplace or their community outside work.

It's a new kind of unionism. More of a movement than a union, really, that will be dedicated to improving the lives of all Canadians -- not just those holding a union card, as our detractors wrongly accuse us of doing.

Unions have always worked to build a better society for all. Many of the benefits of civilized society we take for granted today -- weekends off, paid holidays, bans on child labour, overtime pay and maternity leave, to mention a few -- began as clauses in a union contract. Unifor will be about expanding that role to more directly fight on behalf of all Canadians.

Let's not kid ourselves. Those who would oppose us are big, well organized and well-funded.

Unifor, as Canada's largest private sector union with more than 300,000 members, will give progressives in this country a louder voice to not only counter the cynical opinions of those who would diminish our cherished social programs, but to fight for something even better.

Our social programs, our rights and our standard of living weren't given to us by benevolent leaders. They were won through the hard work of generations of progressive thinkers and activists who struggled to build a society that benefitted all.

That work isn't done yet, not by a long shot. In fact, if we're honest, it's taken a step back after more than 30 years of Reaganism, Thatcherism and the kind of neo-liberalism that our current prime minister enthusiastically encourages.

We believe a better Canada is possible, building on our instincts for fair play and to help one another, and that's why we're bringing our two great unions together under the Unifor banner.

Unifor will be a union for the future, fighting for its members in the workplace and working with progressive voices across the country to build a better Canada for all.


Ken Lewenza is the national president of the Canadian Auto Workers union (CAW) and Dave Coles is the national president of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers union (CEP).   

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