In the June 1970 issue of The Pedestal, members of Edmonton Women’s Liberation reported on their efforts to raise women’s rights with delegates to the Canadian Labour Congress Convention. There were only 70 women out of 1500 delegates at that Convention, and only five resolutions out of 461 dealt with discrimination against women. The EWL members wrote, “ The major argument of men delegates was that women are not interested in unions.” and “Many seemed to assume that women had certain characteristics which made them difficult to organize or not willing to fight for their rights”.
Twenty years later, Judy Rebick, then President of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women, told 600 delegates at the 1990 Canadian Labour Congress Women’s Conference: “It was tough to build … But we persevered. There were some of us in the women’s community and some of us in the labour movement who understood the importance of that alliance … I believe that the alliance between the women’s movement and the labour movement is the most powerful force for social change we have ever seen in history.” (Excerpt from Our Times, March 1991)
The rise of feminist activism within and alongside the labour movement from the 1970s to the 1990s played a significant role in achieving equality gains for women in Canada. It is a story of struggle and change as sisters took up the fight for equality within their unions. It is also a story of solidarity as feminists supported unions in their fight for workplace equality, including the right to unionize, employment equity/affirmative action, equal pay, and protection against workplace harassment. The labour movement too became an active ally in campaigns for childcare, against violence against women and children, and for reproductive rights and abortion.
Explore the Rise Up! digital archive to learn about the alliance between the women’s and labour movements in Canada. Links to directly related publications, documents, and films are below. There are also photos, buttons and music. If you search the website, you will find even more in the materials and publications of others.
Saskatchewan Working Women
Organized Working Women
Edmonton Working Women
Canadian Labour Congress
Ontario Federation of Labour Women’s Committee
Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation
Canadian Auto Workers/United Auto Workers of Canada (Unifor)
A Struggle to Remember: Fighting for our Families
Don’t Call Me Baby
It’s Not Over Yet- Saskatchewan Working Women
The Fleck Women
The Glass Ceiling
We Are the Union – Women’s Work
Dec. 6th, 2009 – 20th Anniversary of Montreal
The Historic Feminist Victories of the 1980s on Reproductive Rights and Pay Equity: Looking Back and Forward