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Labour Studies

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Introduction

Labour history shows specific examples of how working within diverse coalitions which share progressive goals and how strong attachments to political agendas and ideology can greatly affect worker solidarity and shared political power. History also shows that economic conditions can affect labour solidarity and collective bargaining. Lessons: Diversity As Heron shows us, diversity is the key unionism power and history teaches us that to remain a powerful force, unions need to diversify their membership as did the Knights of Labor whose membership included all workers regardless of skill or background. Their membership included women, African Americans, francophone, and all workers who "earned their bread by the sweat of their brow"; except for bankers, lawyers, gamblers and saloon-keepers. (Heron, 2006, p. 21-22) This differed from earlier separated craft unions, which targeted skilled trades with working class associations of predominantly white English speaking men. During the 1880s, the Knights became the largest Canadian labour organization with over two hundred assemblies within Canada, growing to over one million members worldwide in 1886. (Heron, 2006, p. 20) During this time, the large labour movement created challenges for government and capital and forced a number of critical responses. ...read more.

Middle

A national conference to debate the report was held with government's chosen representatives from labour, capital and the public. (Heron, 2006, p. 52-54) This shows that the strike action precipitated at least some effect for the labour movement and unions. The tensions within the Knights regarding partisan politics and the beginning of "independent labour candidates", who had deals or ties with Liberal or Conservative parties and divided workers along partisan lines and decreasing solidarity. Knights used the union to pursue personal political ambitions and became overly cautious in strike action which led to attempts to stop or minimize worker disruption of the interests of capital leading to a loss of credibility. (Heron, 2006, p. 24-25) Heron also mentions that during the 1950s, the unions merged and created the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC). (Heron, 2006, p. 87) The CLC served as a founding partner of the New Democrat Party (NDP) and organized labour has often been split over NDP support. (Heron, 2006, p. 99) In 1990, a negative lesson was learnt about politics and labour, when wage controls were placed on the public sector, beginning in Ottawa and spreading to most provincial capitals. It shows that without a strong leader, political voice can swayed to a more Conservative viewpoint. ...read more.

Conclusion

Unions need to be an inclusive structure sharing progressive viewpoints, ideology and goals to gain solidarity. Without a unified and diverse membership base, the union will not have a strong voice for collective bargaining. The union membership is the foundation that is needed to build the power of labor. Worker solidarity will weaken if there is an attachment to strict ideologies without inclusion of varying views. The need for union's continued political power to affect change and further the interests of labour will continue into the twenty-first century and without it, labour's voice will not be heard in the political arena. Labour's political leaders should know that partisan ambitions will conflict between the responsibilities to their party and to unions and the labour movement would benefit from electing leaders who have clear allegiances to their unions. Finally, economic conditions affect both collective bargaining and labour solidarity. A strong economic climate encourages workers to join unions and lobby their rights while an economic downturn sees workers become discouraged and apathetic. Unions should use the economic climate as a meter to mitigate their demands, by focusing on job stability and fair working conditions, to decrease labour's discontentment and apathy. ...read more.

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