Rebooting the “brand”

by Dick Heinen on February 14, 2012

“Unions must overhaul themselves dramatically—and fast—or face a slow death.” This was the conclusion of a recent leaked document, as reported by the Toronto Star.

The “secret” paper was prepared for discussion at merger talks between the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) union and the Communications, Energy, and Paperworkers (CEP) union. According to the Star, the paper said that “the pressures of globalization, employer aggression, hostile government policy and public cynicism have weakened unions significantly over the past two decades.”

CAW’s and CEP’s answer to these challenges is to merge. A bigger union to fight bigger wars against bigger employers. “The overall challenge is to reboot the ‘brand’ of unions in the minds of workers,” CAW economist Jim Stanford said. “We have to be thinking outside of the box,” added Ken Lewenza, CAW president.

What they need to do is step out of the box completely. The one they’re in is the same one many unions have been stuck in since the early days of the labour movement—the one that pits employees against employers in a never-ending battle.

Dusting off and reinvigorating a brand that belongs to the 1800s is not what workers want or need today. They face enough challenges as it is.

What they need is a union that not only has their back but helps them prepare for today’s and tomorrow’s jobs, to adapt to changing technologies and new opportunities, with safety top of mind. They need a union that respects their individual rights and dignity while helping to seek collective solutions to problems that they and their employers face in an economy still mired in deep uncertainty.

There’s a reason CLAC is growing while other unions are declining. We’re committed to providing the best possible service to our members. We believe union representation is about their needs, not our numbers.

But for Old Labour, it’s all about numbers, because numbers equal power. When you view labour relations as a power struggle and your numbers are down, it’s time to talk merger. It’s time to “reboot the ‘brand’.”

Sixty years ago, CLAC established a different “brand.” Today, that brand is quietly becoming the one more and more workers are choosing.



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