State Of The Union: How Union Membership Benefits All
Canada's Economy Unions in Canada are often portrayed as disruptive and self-centred groups, focused solely on improving the circumstances of their members. But how fair is this representation, and what is the true story behind the labour movement?
Unions are often seen as a polarizing influence and it’s not difficult to see why. Media coverage of union activity rarely shows a complete picture. It is an unfortunate consequence of the commercial realities of mainstream media that news coverage frequently casts unionized labour in a negative light. Wherever there is a union protesting or picketing in defence of workers’ rights, there is media present.
Conversely, wherever there is arbitration, understanding, and mutual agreement, the media is otherwise engaged. News stories about unions and employers working together to resolve issues tend not to make the front page, or any page, for that matter.
“Despite the global recession in 2008, Canada remains one of the wealthiest countries in the world with one of the highest rates of unionization.”
Organizing of workers
Unions serve a variety of functions to members; for example, the organizing of workers into unions helps ensure safe working conditions for employees, fair and equal pay, as well as a guarantee that employers will respect worker rights.
The nature of media coverage means that the public does not always see the good work that unions do.
Historically speaking, unions in Canada have done much not only for their members, but for Canadian society as a whole. Unions fought to make unemployment insurance a reality, helped to bring about the 40-hour work week, unions brought child labour to an end, and successfully campaigned for the minimum wage. The minimum wage is still a major cause today with Canadian unions campaigning for a rise in the minimum wage to $14-an-hour.
Indeed, the Canadian economy has been a major beneficiary of organized labour. Despite the global recession in 2008, Canada remains one of the wealthiest countries in the world with one of the highest rates of unionization; 30 percent of Canadian workers are union members. This proliferation of union membership means that workers make and spend more money, which then finds its way back into the wider economy. Many unions offer extensive health benefits to members. This results in healthier families and less strain on the health system.
This is a pattern that is discernible not only in Canada, but in other countries around the world with strong union movements, such as Scandinavian countries. The evidence, then, is clear: a strong union makes for a strong country.