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Women and their role in the labor movement and unions in Canadian History Essay Example for Free
Women and their role in the labor movement and unions in Canadian History Essay Equal employment policy for women stands at an historic juncture in the advanced industrial democracies. In Canada, a federal Human Rights Act went into effect March 1, 1978 . It not only established a commission to handle complaints of discrimination but also introduced the principle of equal pay for work of equal value, making possible the adjustment upward of womens wages based on a comparison of the rates of pay for women who work in dissimilar jobs. This represents a radical departure from similar policy in other countries. Four approaches to equal opportunity and equal pay policy stand out: collective agreements between trade unions and employers; a legal strategy emphasizing litigation; a legal strategy involving administrative enforcement; and general employment and training programs. The activities of womens organizations and of women in trade unions facilitated the achievement of equal opportunity policy through these means. The time, courage, and commitment which so many women have given to formulating, implementing, and fighting for equal pay and equal opportunity policies are the bedrock of the successes that have been achieved. This work will develop a heightened appreciation of the womens labor movement and consider its role in Canadian history. Since the 1900s, Canadian womens groups have remained strong and consistent voices for reforming or creating policies influencing labor policies. At the turn of the century, several womens groups were actively involved in social reform, but the most influential was the National Council of Women of Canada (NCWC). Founded in 1893, NCWC was established by middle-class women who believed that womens mothering and nurturing within the home could be transferred to the public sphere, resulting in more humane and progressive social policies. This ideology has been labeled maternal feminism. NCWC lobbied for childrens aid societies, mothers pensions, minimum age-of-work legislation, and curfew and truancy acts as strategies to reduce juvenile delinquency. Although members campaigned for jobs for women in social work, teaching, nursing, recreation, and police work, they undercut the same professional advances by insisting that womens most natural place was at home. Numerous other womens groups began in the early years of the twentieth century. For example, the Young Womens Christian Association focused on providing a safe place for young urban working women to live, and has continued to provide accommodation, community activities, and support groups for women and their families up to the present. The Womens Christian Temperance Union promoted child protection legislation and reformatories for juvenile delinquents, as well as fighting for the prohibition of alcohol which was viewed as detrimental to family life. The Canadian Federation of Womens Labor Leagues also focused on concrete reforms of working conditions such as maternity leave and equal pay for equal work. Womens groups flourished during the first half of the twentieth century, although most accepted the patriarchal family and worked within the tradition of volunteerism. Mary Corse, member of the ITUs womens auxiliary and co-founder of the Womens Labor League in Calgary, was the lone candidate to win a seat on the school board. All other eleven candidates were defeated. After a spring of distraction and a summer of preparation, the Calgary branch of the Dominion Labor Party (DLP) came into being in September 1919. Its model was the Alberta DLP, formed eight months earlier, and both branches adopted a constitution and platform loosely based on those of the British Labor Party. Local labor figures were quick to point out this connection. The meeting concluded with the election of Pryde as party president, Alice Corliss as vice-president, and Edith Patterson as secretary-treasurer. This strong representation of women in senior positions in all, three of the seven executive officials were women would be an enduring feature of the DLP throughout the 1920s. According to historian Roome (1989), the Calgary DLP had a core of fifty to seventy-five active female members, consisting of single working women usually teachers or journalists and married women belonging to union auxiliaries. A Canadian-American Womens Committee on International Relations made up of the Womens Committee on International Relations of Canada and the U.S. National Committee on the Cause and Cure of War had been established to examine problems of joint concern to women. It held a conference in Montreal in April 1943 which was attended by seventy delegates. Frances Perkins, Margaret Bondfield, Rose Schneiderman, and several senior members of the ILO staff (including the Acting Director and Assistant Director) addressed the conference and discussed the wartime activities of the ILO. A round table session, at which Elizabeth Mayer Johnstone reviewed the wide gains of women during the war, gave special attention to the problems of domestic workers. A second potential influence on attitudes was the re-emergence of feminist activity in Canada during the 1960s. Second-wave feminism has challenged the many social and economic barriers to womens full participation in public life and widened womens experiences, aspirations and social expectations. The womens movement in Canada incorporates many different forms of feminist philosophies (for example liberal feminism, radical feminism and socialist feminism) which have all contributed to the policy objectives of the womens movement and constructed a Ã¢â¬Å"feministÃ¢â¬ agenda for social change. Although the focus of these different strains is distinct and they have, at times, come into conflict with each other, they can often be found within a single movement organization such as National Action Committee on the Status of Women (NAC). The contemporary womens movement in Canada has benefited immeasurably from a long tradition of womens voluntary associations. Religious groups such as the Anglican Church Women, the United Church Women, and the Catholic Womens League, and other groups such as the National Womens Institutes (a national organization of largely rural and small town women), the National Council of Women, the Canadian Federation of University Women, the Imperial Orders of Daughters of the Empire, and the FÃ ©dÃ ©ration des femmes de QuÃ ©bec, have been in existence long enough to have built national networks of women with some interlocking memberships and considerable ongoing exchange of information. The NAC developed from a coalition of these and other trade union and professional women. The improvement of equal pay laws in Canada owes much to a voluntary organization NAC. An umbrella organization with a membership consisting of approximately 130 Canadian organizations, NAC has a combined membership of about 5 million women. NAC later expanded its agenda and became an active lobbyist on behalf of the concerns of Canadian women. Since its inception in 1972, the organization has been active in the struggle for improved labor legislation, including the enactment into Canadian federal law of the ILO Convention 100 concept of equal remuneration for work of equal value. The main impetus for NACs formation came out of the pressure put on the prime minister of Canada and his cabinet by a group of leading Canadian women to create a Royal Commission on the Status of Women (RCSW). Royal commissions in Canada perform an important role in the study of special issuesÃ¢â¬âfrom taxation, to the relations of labor and capital, to national security. The commissions vary widely in their composition and goals but the approach of most is similar. They research the issue, hold public hearings across the country, receive briefs, and make recommendations for legislative and administrative reform. On the matter of equal pay, this commissions recommendations were strong and sweeping. As a result, in 1973 the federal government appointed a Minister Responsible for the Status of Women and a government department (Status of Women Canada) to co-ordinate efforts to promote the advancement of women. Because women are closely aligned with children and family, numerous family policy issues have been promoted. In the same year, the federal government established the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women (CACSW), a para-governmental organization to advise government and inform the public through research and education. For over twenty years, the CACSW researched and analyzed numerous issues relating to family policy, such as reproduction, family law, child care, and employment leave for family responsibilities. After the 1995 cut-backs, however, the CACSW was dissolved and some of its functions merged with government. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, provincial advisory councils also monitored womens status and provided research and information on family issues. Feminist groups have also initiated and developed important family services at the local level, especially transition houses for women and their children fleeing from abusive homes. While the shelter movement began as a feminist alternative to mainstream social services, many transition houses now receive government funding. By the mid-1980s, however, womens groups focused more on preventing the erosion of social programs than on pushing for new ones, with greater public concern over government spending and a backlash against feminism. Since 1983, the conservative group REAL Women of Canada (Real, Equal and Active for Life) has argued that the state is undermining the traditional family by responding to alternative lifestyles and by funding interest groups such as NAC. REAL Women, with roots in the western Canada anti-abortion or pro-life movement and in fundamentalist Christianity, promotes stronger government support for home-makers but opposes abortion, liberal divorce laws, pay equity, and universal day care. Several recent innovative initiatives are worthy of note. In June of 1995, after a year of intense planning, three branches of the 10-day QuÃ ©bec Womens March Against Poverty converged on the National Assembly in QuÃ ©bec City to join 15,000 supporters. This March was initiated by the FÃ ©dÃ ©ration des femmes du QuÃ ©bec, and organized by more than 40 groups including unions, anti-poverty groups, immigrant groups and womens organizations. The March was quite a success: in response to their nine demands, the QuÃ ©bec government agreed to raise the minimum wage; to introduce a proactive pay equity law; to deduct child support payments automatically; to set aside 5 per cent of social housing for poor women and five places for every 15 in non-traditional trades; to reduce the length of sponsorship for immigrant women; to allocate money to the social economy to generate jobs; to extend basic employment standards to those on workfare; and to freeze student fees. Building on this initiative, NAC and the CLC sponsored a national womens March Against Poverty For bread and roses, for jobs and justice in May and June of 1996. Caravans traveled to Ottawa from both the west and east coast stopping in over 100 communities. The March ended with a two-day womens Tent City and a protest rally of over 40,000 women at Parliament Hill which demonstrated against the right wing corporate and government agenda. The Canadian union movement was actively involved in building the World March of Women launched on 8 March 2000 and culminating on 17 October 2000, the International Day for the Elimination of Poverty. This worldwide activity endorsed by over 200 countries and 2200 organisations was initiated by the FÃ ©dÃ ©ration des femmes du QuÃ ©bec modelled on their successful 1995 March. Over the past century, Canadian womens groups have made a strong impact on policy reform. The socialization explanation argues that the impact of the movement and the policy positions promoted by womens groups during this second wave of feminist activity, have led to growing differences in womens and mens attitudes. The Canadian womens movement has acted as an advocate for many political issues touching the lives of women. Social welfare policies, and questions of international and domestic force and violence along with feminism and equality issues have frequently been found on the movements agenda. By conveying pro-women policy positions to politicians and the general public through lobbying efforts, the mass media, and the educational system, the movement has become an active agent of socialization in society, providing a political space in which women can reconceptualize their social identity. Trade union women worked with community based feminist groups, both to build coalitions around key issues such as childcare and pay equity, and to pressure the union movement to respond to the feminist challenge. Canadian womens movement have had an important impact on the politics and practices of the Canadian life, weakening the tendency towards individualistic solutions and introducing (and reintroducing) a class perspective. Coalition strategies both respond to and highlight the significance of diversity in the Canadian context, that is, they represent recognition of power dynamics and an organizational alternative to homogeneous organizations. Whatever the debates about the Ã¢â¬Å"successÃ¢â¬ of the womens movement or about a perceived growing backlash against feminist goals, there is little doubt that in Canada it has greatly altered the political agenda and has helped pioneer new forms of political action. It has indeed brought Ã¢â¬Å"the personalÃ¢â¬ into the political arena. Works Cited Ball A. Ã¢â¬Å"Organizing Working Women: The Womens Labor Leagues.Ã¢â¬ Canadian Dimension 21(8): 1988. Cohen M. Ã¢â¬Å"The Canadian Womens MovementÃ¢â¬ . In Pierson et al., 1993. Everitt, Joanna Ã¢â¬Å"The Gender Gap in Canada: Now You See It, Now You Dont.Ã¢â¬ Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology. Vol.: 35 (2), 1998. Kealey, Gregory S., and Peter Warrian, eds. Essays in Canadian Working Class History. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1976. Kearney, Kathryn. Ã¢â¬Å"Canadian Women and the First World War,Ã¢â¬ Canadian Woman Studies 3 (1), 1981. Palmer, Bryan D. Working-Class Experience: Rethinking the History of Canadian Labor, 1800-1991. 2nd ed. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1992. Roome, Patricia. Ã¢â¬Å"Amelia Turner and Calgary Labor Women,Ã¢â¬ in Beyond the Vote: Canadian Women and Politics, ed. Linda Kealey and Joan Sangster,. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1989. REAL Women of Canada. Brief to Members of Parliament. 18 November 1986. Vickers, J., P. Rankin and C. Appelle. Politics as if Women Mattered: A Political Analysis of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women. Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Pr. 1993.