Unpacking CLAC

by Dennis Perrin on July 25, 2013

“What do you do for a living?” This question is asked of all of us on a regular basis—on vacations, during casual conversation with the new neighbour across the street, or, as was my case recently, while chatting with a stranger sitting beside me on a three-hour flight between Saskatoon and Toronto. The length and complexity of our answer depends on what we actually do for a living.

I’ve had the great privilege to work for CLAC for nine years, and the answer to this question for me has never gotten any easier or simpler. It’s not that I’m ashamed of what I do—far from it. I’m very proud of the organization I work for.

I began my response to my fellow passenger by saying that I’m a union representative. It was at this juncture that I knew I had to do some unpacking and explaining. The term union means different things to different people, and comes with an increasing amount of baggage and negativity these days.

Unfortunately, unions’ popularity continues to decline. For many people, union is a bad word and conjures up no end of negative perceptions—strikes, unreasonable demands, outdated views, fighting. Much of this is due to the actions of unions themselves, and much is the by-product of an adversarial labour relations model that is still the predominant way of doing things in our society.

I went on to explain how CLAC is different from traditional unions. I focussed on the benefits of how our cooperative labour relations model works better than the model most other unions use. I explained how we take a practical and common-sense approach to workplace relations, and how ultimately this drastically different approach benefits our members much better than one that is steeped in class struggle and fighting.

My fellow passenger was interested and intrigued. It made sense to him. Even though it took some work to do so, I’m glad I took the time to explain how privileged I am to do what I do for a living.

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