TORONTO - Canadian Auto Workers delegates have voted unanimously to merge with the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada, combining two of Canada's largest private-sector unions.
The union said Wednesday all of the 1,000 delegates voted for the merger at the CAW's constitutional and collective bargaining convention in Toronto.
"This new union has the potential to change the way workers are represented in this country, bringing about stronger democracy in the workplace and greater community involvement," CAW president Ken Lewenza said after his union's vote.
"This union will pose a serious challenge to the unrepresentative, unfair economic and political systems workers now find themselves caught in."
The deal still has to be decided by CEP delegates, who will vote on the proposal when they meet in Quebec City in October.
The new union would represent more than 300,000 workers across roughly 20 economic sectors.
Most of the membership would be concentrated in manufacturing, communications and transportation.
Lewenza and other key players have said the two groups must join forces in order to ensure protection for existing members and inject some life back into the national labour movement.
It will be hard for the CAW to part with its name, Lewenza said Wednesday before the results of the vote were announced.
"But it's a name," he said, adding that a new approach to organized labour is needed in light of what he calls the government's attack on unions in recent years.
CEP president Dave Coles said the merger with CAW makes sense because the two unions share a similar history and have worked together in the past.
"Bigger is not necessarily better," he said. "But a bigger and better union is better, and that's what we're going to build."
The CAW began contract talks with the big U.S. automakers — GM, Ford and Chrysler — last week.
The union, which made concessions on wages, vacation time and other benefits when the U.S. automakers were struggling during the 2008-09 recession, has said it wants to share in the profits now that the industry has rebounded.
The automakers have said their focus during the negotiations will be to improve competitiveness at their Canadian operations, where labour costs are higher than in the United States.
Also on Wednesday, Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney addressed a persistent complaint of those who put the blame for weak exports squarely on the shoulders of the strong Canadian dollar. The manufacturing sector and auto industry have been particularly hard hit in recent years.
He noted Canada's export performance was the second-worst in the G20 over the last decade, with only nine per cent of exports going to fast-growing emerging markets such as China and India.
And he sought to dispel the notion that the high loonie bears the bulk of the blame.
He told union members that over the past decade, Canada's poor export performance is two-thirds explained by market structure and one-third by competitiveness. Of the latter, he said, about two-thirds is the currency while the rest is labour costs and productivity.
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Labour Day: A Canadian Invention
Few Canadians realize it, but Labour Day is as Canadian as maple bacon. It all began in 1872, when the Toronto Typographical Union went on strike to demand a nine-hour workday. When <i>Globe and Mail</i> chief George Brown had the protest organizers arrested, Prime Minister John A. Macdonald passed a law legalizing labour unions. Thus, a Conservative prime minister became a hero to the working class, and Canada became among the first countries to limit the workday, doing so decades before the U.S. The typographers' marches became an annual event, eventually being adopted by the U.S., becoming the modern day Labour Day.
The Winnipeg General Strike
The end of World War I brought social instability and economic volatility to Canada. On May 15, 1919, numerous umbrella union groups went out on strike in Winnipeg, grinding the city to a halt. Protesters were attacked in the media with epithets such as "Bolshevik" and "Bohunk," but resistance from the media and government only strengthened the movement. In June, the mayor ordered the Mounties to ride into the protest, prompting violent clashes and the death of two protesters. After protest leaders were arrested, organizers called off the strike. But the federal mediator ended up ruling in favour of the protesters, establishing the Winnipeg General Strike as the most important strike in Canadian history, and a precursor to the country's modern labour movement.
The Regina Riot
During the Great Depression, the only way for a single male Canadian to get government assistance was to join "relief camps" -- make-work projects set up by the federal government out of concern idle young men were a threat to the nation. The relief camps, with their poor work conditions, became breeding grounds for communists and other radicals. The "On-To-Ottawa Trek" was organized as a protest that would move from Vancouver across the country to Ottawa, to bring workers' grievances to the prime minister. The trek halted in Regina when Prime Minister R.B. Bennett promised to talk to protest organizers. When talks broke down, the RCMP refused to allow the protesters to leave Regina and head for Ottawa, and on June 26, 1935, RCMP riot officers attacked a crowd of protesters. More than 100 people were arrested and two killed -- one protester and one officer.
In May, 1938, unemployed men led by communist organizers occupied a post office and art gallery in downtown Vancouver, protesting over poor work conditions at government-run Depression-era "relief camps." In June, the RCMP moved in to clear out the occupiers, using tear gas inside the post office. The protesters inside smashed windows for air and armed themselves with whatever was available. Forty-two people, including five officers, were injured. When word spread of the evacuation, sympathizers marched through the city's East End, smashing store windows. Further protests against "police terror" would be held in the weeks to come.
Giant Mine Bombing
In 1992, workers at Royal Oak Mines' Giant Mine in the Northwest Territories went on strike. On September 18, a bomb exploded in a mineshaft deep underground, killing nine replacement workers. Mine worker Roger Warren was convicted of nine counts of second-degree murder. The Giant Mine closed in 2004.
The Toronto G20
The Canadian Labour Congress, representing numerous labour groups, participated in protests in Toronto during the G20 summit in June, 2010. When a handful of "Black Block" anarchists rioted through the city core, it brought an overwhelming police response that resulted in the largest mass arrests in Canadian history. More than 1,000 people were arrested, with most never charged with any crime. Numerous allegations of police brutality have been made, and the Toronto police are now the target of several multi-million dollar lawsuits. So far, two police officers have been charged with crimes relating to G20 policing, and charges against other police officers are also possible.
When Vancouver-based magazine Adbusters suggested the public "occupy Wall Street" to protest corporate malfeasance, New Yorkers took the suggestion seriously, and occupied Zuccotti Park in Manhattan. Canadians followed suit, sparking copycat occupations in all major Canadian cities in September, 2011. By December, most of the occupations had been cleared, all of them non-violently. Though the protests achieved no specific goals, they did change the political conversation in North America. What their long-term legacy will be remains to be seen.