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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Caimaw : Portrait of a Canadian union Atherton, Patricia Gwen,


This study of CAIMAW's history attempts to explain why some Canadians in recent times have abandoned international unions to found and develop an independent Canadian union, to determine whether such an independent union is identifiably different from those unions traditionally operating in Canada, and to identify the factors that operate in favour and mitigate against the success of Canadians in their attempt to create and develop such a union. Personal interviews with the major figures related to this study comprise an essential source of information. Due to the cooperation extended by CAIMAW, a search of union files was conducted and constitutions, pamphlets, correspondence, newspaper articles, union publications and other relevant documents were examined. Published sources provided secondary information for the majority of this paper. A societal mood in the 1960's of labour militancy, uncertainty arising from adaptation to change, a desire for Canadian self-assertion, and a corresponding resentment of American influence in Canadian affairs combined to set the stage for the formation of breakaway independent Canadian unions in Winnipeg and Vancouver. Lack of control over their own affairs and the imposition on the membership of unpopular union decisions by international officers created unrest among these Winnipeg and Vancouver workers, and a demand for greater membership decision making authority. Refusal by the international unions involved to respond to this demand resulted in a coalition of union dissidents and nationalists in a common cause, the rejection of their international unions and the founding of their own, independent national unions. The merger of the Winnipeg and Vancouver breakaway unions gave rise to a constitutional battle seated in philosophical differences with overtones of regionalism. It was a struggle between business unionism and social unionism, and a corresponding struggle between centralized authority and local autonomy. The resolution of this struggle in the rejection of business unionism and centralized authority laid the foundations for the policies and practices of CAIMAW as it operates today. These policies and practices make CAIMAW a union that is identifiably different from traditional international unions in terms of greater decision-making power for the rank and file, different methods of bargaining, and a different organizational structure. These differences do not, however, appear to have hindered CAIMAW's ability to win benefits for its membership that are at least comparable to those won by international unions. An independent union such as CAIMAW faces difficulties in its formation and development due to the established place of international unions in Canadian labour institutions. But weaknesses within these institutions such as interunion and intraunion divisions have allowed CAIMAW to survive and, indeed, grow. CAIMAW can draw support from union dissidents, nationalists and socialists of the New Left, groups which traditional labour institutions in Canada have failed to accommodate. To the extent that a society creates institutions in accordance with its needs, there exists an important place for CAIMAW in Canada.

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