The Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) Women’s Committee was formed in 1976. The Committee has been part of every hard-fought battle for equality. Members organized and mobilized strike support, demonstrations, civil disobedience, marches, and lobbies. Frontline issues were maternity leave, ending racist immigration policies, equal pay for work of equal value, family law reform, child care, full access to abortion and midwifery, an end to violence against women, lesbian and gay equality rights, and union recognition.
Two key “women strikes” Fleck (1978) and Radio Shack (1980) saw solidarity mobilization by unions and the broader women’s movement. These pivotal strikes and others were instrumental in pressuring Ontario’s Conservative government to give way and legislate union security as a part of the Ontario Labour Relations Act.
The Committee helped to found and sustain many new equality organizations such as the National Action Committee on the Status of Women, the Equal Pay Coalition, the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care, and the pro-choice movement for abortion rights. OFL-sponsored conferences on “Sex Discrimination in Ontario” and “Bargaining for Equality” drew hundreds of delegates from across the province and produced hard-hitting campaigns. Equal pay for work of equal value became a central demand and urgent necessity. The OFL assisted the NDP which, inside the Legislature, challenged the Bill Davis Tories to stop “subsidizing the economy with women’s underpaid labour.”
The leadership role played by the OFL Women’s Committee was crucial to winning the first comprehensive labour affirmative action policy. Many unions and federations now have policies that designate seats on leadership bodies for women and other equity groups. In Canada, this process began in 1983 when the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) broke new ground by amending its constitution to create five executive board positions for affirmative action seats.
Carrol Anne Sceviour, Human Rights and Women’s Director, Ontario Federation of Labour