Trade Union Renewal through Young Workers: Adaptation Process of Two Union Organizations in Canada

Friday, 3 July 2015: 2:15 PM-3:45 PM
TW2.1.01 (Tower Two)
Melanie Laroche, Université de Montréal, Montréal, QC, Canada
Mélanie Dufour-Poirier, Université de Montréal, Montréal, QC, Canada
This paper discusses the reasons why young workers participate in union life and, more specifically, the effectiveness of structures such as youth committees which are specially designed to stimulate union activism among them. Young workers’ participation in union structures is here conceptualized through a triptych combining identity, socialization processes and democracy.

This paper analyzes the difficulties related to the capacity of the two union organizations examined in this study to stimulate participation among their members under age 30 through their youth committees. It also demonstrates retrospectively how young workers have contributed to putting their concerns on the union agenda so as to stimulate change within their union. Empirical data gathered between 2009 and 2014 come from 20 interviews conducted with individual union leaders at various levels of the union and 40 other group interviews held with more than 400 young workers who are members of two major union organizations in Quebec, covering both public and private sectors.

Our results confirm that the two union organizations in this study were willing to adapt to increasing diversity among their members and give them a voice in developing their strategic orientations. However, our results also show that these organizations had difficulties fully integrating young workers into their internal structures so as to stimulate their participation and, ideally, turn them into union activists. The collected testimonies reveal the young members’ capacity to express their views on the relevance of union structures, practices and prevailing ideas and to propose changes informed by their expectations. However, the changes and adaptation process demanded by the young workers are more substantial and profound than those that their unions have actually undertaken. Indeed, the young workers want to exert real influence over their working conditions and on current and future struggles whereas such aspirations entail a wide range of political challenges and risks for their union organizations.