CAW, CEP Talk About Creating New Larger Union
Published The Huffington Post Canada
By Rachel Mendleson
In the face of diminishing power and a hostile economic climate, two of Canada’s largest labour unions are considering joining forces and rebuilding from the ground up. The Canadian Auto Workers’ union (CAW) and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers union (CEP) are in talks to consolidate their memberships and create a new union. In the aftermath of a recession that bore down hard on Canada’s struggling manufacturing sector and already fragmented labour movement, CEP President Dave Coles says the talks represent an escalation in the battle to shore up unions — and their membership. “Our members are paying the price right now for the economic and political situation in Canada and the world right now,” he says. “I’m not about to stand by and let it happen without at least attempting to throw a few punches.” The consolidation effort was first reported by the Toronto Star on Friday, which described the discussions as “merger talks.”
But in an interview with The Huffington Post, Coles took issue with the characterization.
“What we’re trying to do here is create a new union. It’s not one joining the other, or merging together, it’s actually starting from the ground up, and building a new union,” he says. “It starts from the bottom up and it will require a significant amount of grassroots involvement. We’ll attempt to design something that doesn’t reflect either union but respects the histories of our unions … [and] our fundamental beliefs.”
CAW President Ken Lewenza echoed this sentiment.
“It wouldn’t be a takeover of CAW or vice versa. It would really be re-defining the labour movement based on best practices of our members, and trying to form a culture of providing the best of both organizations,” said Lewenza. “It wouldn’t be a merger. It would really be a couple of unions — even more, I think, are going to fall into some of the conversations over the next few months — [discussing] how we strengthen our desire to have more influence at the bargaining table, more influence in the public policy initiatives.”
Traditional mergers, however, have also been a common strategy. Both the CAW and CEP have subsumed smaller unions in an attempt to retain power and membership in an increasingly tough economic and political climate. The difficulties plaguing organized labour have been felt most acutely in the private sector, where union density, the percentage of workers belonging to organized labour, has slipped from about 30 per cent in the mid-1970s to 18 per cent.
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