Labour Movement and Women’s Equality

Through the 1970s to the 1990s, the labour movement in Canada became a significant ally in the struggle for women’s equality.

As more and more women steadily moved into the paid workforce, many also became union members. Feminists active in the labour movement worked with other union women to put pressure on their unions and central labour bodies to take up issues such as affirmative action/employment equity, childcare, equal pay for work of equal value, maternity leave, and sexual harassment. Unions started bringing these issues to the collective bargaining table, fighting against discrimination in the workplace, and adding labour’s organizing power to the political battles of the women’s movement. Their victories provided a springboard for winning bigger gains and extending these rights to all women, often through legislative change such as with maternity leave and equal pay.

The structures and face of unions themselves also began to change as women fought for greater equality inside these organizations. During these years, sisters organized union women’s committees, conferences, and caucuses; gained better representation at conventions and on leadership bodies; and won union support for women’s equality campaigns in the larger society.

In some provinces, independent organizations such as Saskatchewan Working Women and Organized Working Women were built outside union structures. These groups brought union women together with working women who were not unionized, and they became strong and effective advocates on women’s equality issues both inside and alongside the labour movement.

At the same time, women’s movement activists and groups also provided significant support to women in the labour force who were struggling to organise unions and win first contracts, or striking for better pay and working conditions. Such alliances brought union women into the women’s movement, encouraged feminists to work in their unions, and taught others about workplace and union issues.

In Ontario alone, there were a number of strikes in the late 1970s and early 1980s, in which women workers and women’s issues were central: Fleck 1978, Radio Shack 1979, Lancia-Bravo 1979, Puretex 1978, Bell Canada 1978-79, Blue Cross 1979, Fotomat 1980-81, Irwin Toy 1981, and Eaton’s 1984-85. Autonomous feminist organizations such as the International Women’s Day Committee played a strong role in building women’s solidarity actions.

During the 1978-79 Inco Miners’ Strike (USWA), a group of miners’ wives formed a Wives support committee which then sent representatives to march in the Toronto International Women’s Day March of 1980.

Also in 1978-1979, the ad hoc Women Back Into Stelco Committee launched a campaign to force Stelco management in Hamilton, Ontario, to end twenty years of sexist hiring practices. The campaign succeeded in winning public and legal recognition that Stelco had practiced discriminatory hiring, and it forced Stelco to begin hiring women. This campaign had the strong backing of USW Local 1005 activist and leader Cec Taylor and is one example of campaigns to open the doors for women in non-traditional jobs.

In British Columbia, SORWUC (the Service, Office and Retail Workers’ Union of Canada) took a different path to addressing women’s equality and the labour movement. SORWUC  came out of the Vancouver Working Women’s Association, and its purpose was to organize workers in predominantly female job sectors, especially the retail, bank, and service industries, traditionally ignored by unions.

During this period of renewed feminist activism, labour campaigns for women’s equality in the workplace included the following issues:
• sexual harassment
• maternity/parental leave
• equal pay
• reproductive rights
• affirmative action/employment equity

Many labour bodies also adopted policies and gave support to other women’s equality campaigns, such as abortion rights, childcare, and ending violence against women.

This section includes a variety of materials produced by unions and women’s equality groups for which there is not yet a separate presence. Many additional materials can be found using the links to related organizations and events shown on this page. Over time, it is anticipated that more of these links will be created.

Labour Movement and Women’s Equality Documents

Title Date Region
A Guide to Fighting Workplace Sexual Harassment/Assault 1988 National (all of Canada)
Blueprint for the future – Our future is our children 1987 National (all of Canada)
British Columbia Federation of Labour – Report on Sexual Harassment in the Workplace 1980 British Columbia
British Columbia Federation of Labour – Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: A Discussion Paper 1980 British Columbia
Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) – Fighting for Equality: Backgrounder Number 3 1984 National (all of Canada)
Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) – Fighting for Equality: Part-Timers 1984 National (all of Canada)
Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) – Protection From Discrimination: You Have It – Use It! 1984 National (all of Canada)
Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) – The Coder Classification Dispute: Fighting for Equal Pay 1984 National (all of Canada)
Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) – Affirmative Action: Putting a Stop to Sex Discrimination -- National (all of Canada)
Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) – Sexual Harassment: Why It’s Important to Negotiate Clauses on this Issue 1982 National (all of Canada)
Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE): 10 Pay Equity Myths -- Ontario
Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE): Heading ‘Em Off at the Pay Gap -- National (all of Canada)
Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE/SCFP) – Are You Being Discriminated Against? Faites-vous l’objet de discrimination? -- National (all of Canada)
Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE/SCFP) – The status of women in CUPE/ la situation de la femme dans le SCFP 1971 National (all of Canada)
National Union of Provincial Government Employees.(NUPGE) – Bargaining for Equality 1985 National (all of Canada)
National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) – Sexual Harassment at Work 1981 National (all of Canada)
Ontario Public Service Employee’s Union (OPSEU) – Convention ’84: A Policy Paper on Women and Affirmative Action 1984 Ontario
Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) – Affirmative Action in the Public Service: More Talk than Action: Report and Letter 1983 National (all of Canada)
Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) – Protective Reassignment for Pregnant or Breastfeeding Workers 1994 National (all of Canada)
Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) – Sexual Harassment Fact Sheet 1986 National (all of Canada)
Public Service Alliance of Canada – Sexual Harassment At Work 1985 National (all of Canada)
Surviving and Thriving: Kootenay Women in Trades and Technology and Employment Equity 1988 British Columbia
The Status of Women Within B.C. Federation of Labour Affiliated Unions 1987 British Columbia
Toronto Labour Council Women’s Committee: 6th Annual Women’s Day Lunch 1991 Ontario
Women in the Automated Office (1985) 1985 Ontario
Women in Trades and Technology Conference – 1988 Program 1988 British Columbia
Women in Trades: National Conference of Women in Trades, Winnipeg 1980 National (all of Canada)
Women on the Global Assembly Line (1985) 1985 Ontario
Women, Unions and Workplace Struggles -- Ontario
Working Women Speak Out! 1973 Ontario

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Union Maid

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Related Button Material

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pay equity….what’s the key?


Women & Unions … Stronger Together!

A Woman’s Place is in Her Union

Women make the union strong – cupw.sttp

Equal Opportunities (CUPE)

CUPE 1230: Support library workers – fight cutbacks

Employment Equity for a better Ontario – CUPE/SCEP

O povo unido, jamais será vencido! F.A.S.W.O.C

December 6th. Mourn. Organize. Change. Hope (CUPW)

A Woman’s Place is in Her Union – CUC


Bank Busters – Union of Bank Employees On Strike at the Commerce

out of the sweatshops – ILGWU Garment Workers Unite!

The Right to a Union at the Commerce and Graham Cable – No More Radio Shack, Blue Cross, Irwin Toy!

Local 23-25 ILGWU

Made in Canada: Union Made – ILGWU Canada

Buy Canadian – Save Our Jobs (ILGWU)

Les Femmes prennent du terrain – La Journée Internationale de la Femme (SEIC)

Service Office Retail Workers Union Canada (SORWUC) – A Union for Working Women

Women in Trades

We are Family

Strong Women Strong Union – C.E.I.U. Women’s Committee

Solidarité Pride Fierté – Canadian Labour Congress/ Congrès du Travail du Canada

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Mini-Skools Pays Mini-Wages

Micro-Chips May Cause Job Decay

Help Crack Bell

Collective Action Collective Strength – International Women’s Day (CEIU)

Boycott Eaton’s

A Woman’s Place is in Her Union

Stop Sexual Harassment (NUPGE)

Celebrate March 8th International Women’s Day – Public Service Alliance of Canada

Keep it public

No More Nickels, No More Dimes – Wives Supporting 1005 Strikers