The biggest postwar breakthrough for the union and labour movements was for women, who saw significant increases in workforce numbers and union participation. Unfortunately, these increases did not put women on a level playing-field with their male counterparts in either domain — an inequality that persists to date.

In Quebec, the growing presence of women in the labour and social movements of the 1960s and 1970s was a key factor in the fight for social progress: gender and wage equity, maternity leave, limitations on budget cut-backs - all are battles in which women played a front-line role.

During the 1968 Royal Commission on the Status of Women, CUPE made the following report:

"CUPE does not feel that the labour movement does enough to fight discrimination against working women. We will readily admit that there is discrimination against women in all sections of the labour movement. To hide the fact will only prevent the solving of the problem.

We do not wish to minimize the good work done by many unions which try to eliminate wage discrimination and job opportunity on the basis of sex. Nevertheless, the majority of female union members who fight for true equality, do so without the wholehearted support of their fellow trade unions, male and female.

Although our female membership is considerably higher than the general pattern of unions in Canada, the union of CUPE have only fared slightly better than women in other unions in attaining positions of leadership.

a) Two executive board members out of a total of 17 are women.

b) With a total of 75 executive officers in all of CUPE Provincial Divisions across Canada, eight are women.

c) With a technical organizing and education staff of 90, CUPE has just recently hired its first female representative

"The women who are on the job site know very well that they will never get ahead without a union. They know they will still not have equality, they will not have safety and health, they will not have protections of any sort."

Shirley Carr, President of the Canadian Labour of Congress.

Excerpt from: Canadian Union Movement in the 1980s: Perspectives from Union Leaders, Pradeep Kumar and Dennis Ryan, eds. (Queens: Industrial Relations Centre, 1988).

Percentage of Women in Unions

Statistics from: Who Makes the Decisions?: Women's Participation in Canadian Unions, Marina C. Boehm (Kingston: Industrial Relations Centre, 1991).

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