n the post-World War II era,
Canadian workers and their unions faced new challenges.
Technological change and management's plans to re-organize
work to increase production worried many workers. Such
concerns were exacerbated by what the workers felt was
management's general disregard of the impact these
changes had on them. As well, the composition of the
work force was changing rapidly in several important
respects. First, by the early 1960s, the better-educated
"Baby Boom" generation appeared on the scene. Baby Boomers
brought with them different expectations than their
parents who had survived the Great Depression and the
destruction of World War II. Many would prove much more
willing to challenge management's authority. They also,
at times, challenged their union leaders for being too
passive with employers and governments.
Another important change occurred for workers and
their families. As society placed greater emphasis on
education, fewer teenagers took full time employment.
This trend placed pressure on family finances, as the
teens' wages no longer provided a secure supplement to
the family income. This pressure on family finances was
a factor behind one of the most significant changes
occurring in the workplace. Beginning in the 1950s,
women joined the paid work force in ever increasing
numbers. Over the next two decades, women's
participation in the workforce rose to 56 percent
and accounted for 42 percent of the labour force.
Obviously, women took paid labour for reasons beyond
stabilizing family income. Women pursued work as an
alternative to more traditional lifestyles, by seeking
their own careers, greater economic independence,
and a broader social milieu.
This influx of women into the paid labour force
began to change the face of the union movement. By
the mid-1980s, women represented 35 percent of union
membership in Canada. This shift in the gender balance
in the labour movement saw women gradually, and often
in the face of male opposition, begin to assume more
prominent positions in union locals, labour councils,
and the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC). Women brought
important new issues to the bargaining table: maternity
leave, child care, sexual harassment, and equal pay to
women workers for work of equal value.
The growing numbers of Canadians employed in the
public sector was another fundamental change of the
post-World War II era. Municipal and provincial
governments and the federal state hired thousands
of workers. More people found blue collar work with
governments than ever before in our history. But the
greatest changes came in the white-collar sector.
Almost every semi-professional and professional
occupation imaginable was now to be found somewhere
in the state system. Estimates indicate that by the
early 1970s, one in five Canadian workers was a public employee.
This transformation of the labour force significantly
reshaped the Canadian labour movement. While government
employees had formed associations as early as World War I,
these groups were more social clubs than unions. Negotiations,
when they took place with government, had been amicable,
and the associations neither had nor sought collective
bargaining rights or the right to strike. However, the
dramatic changes in the composition of the public service
in the 1950s and 1960s ushered in a much cooler climate
of labour relations.