Queen's University IRC

Union Organizing Activity in Ontario, 1970-1986


Dan Keon

February 1, 1988

The Canadian labour movement entered the 1980s in a state of great uncertainty. Following almost forty years of steady uninterrupted growth the union movement in Canada experienced in the early 1980s losses in the total number of union members. Although these losses in the absolute number of union members were recouped in the mid-1980s, the proportion of nonagricultural paid workers who are union members dropped from 1983 to 1986 to a level that had been achieved in the mid-1970s. This important indicator of union strength seemed to confirm much speculation about the stagnation or perhaps decline of the union movement in Canada.

Another critical indicator of the condition of the labour movement in Canada is the level and composition of new organizing activity that is conducted. In order to be vibrant and to maintain past levels of strength the union movement must successfully recruit new members into the union fold. The purpose of this study is to examine the labour movement’s performance in this critical work in Ontario, the province of Canada with the largest number of union members.

The method of analysis in this study is statistical. Aggregate data on the number of certifications and decertifications granted by the Ontario Labour Relations Board in the years 1970-1986 has been compiled into series tables. These tables are the primary source for analyzing the union movement’s organizing activity in Ontario in the past two decades. They also provide a new perspective from which to assess the condition of the Canadian labour movement in the 1980s.

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