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.

Link to the Social Progress Gallery