Canadian women and unions organizing for equality

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More than a hundred years ago, Canadian women fought for the right to vote. They developed organizing skills and political know-how during that struggle, and they won the vote.

With this success behind them, women in unions carried on fighting for equality at work.

Women working in a munitions factory in World War I.

Presentation of two petitions for women's right to vote to the Manitoba legislature in 1915. Beginning in 1916 it took decades before all women (including Aboriginal women in 1960) gained the vote.

Canadian Glass employees Kathleen and Geraldine Carter washing chemicals off Christmas Decorations. December 1944.

Members of the International Ladies Garment Workers (ILGWU) supporting the strike against Eaton's department store,1912.

Members of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario attend a collective bargaining

rally in June 2015.

Credit: Jay Keddy

Therasa Chernets works part-time in the Parks and Recreation Department. Sharon Llewellyn is

WSIB/Rehabilitation Representative, CUPE Local 79.

Dressmakers General Strike, Dressmakers Union, International Ladies Garment Workers (ILGWU), Toronto, 1931.

Members of the Federation of Women Teachers’ Associations of Ontario (FWTAO) at a rally against Bill 179 at the Ontario Legislature (Queen's Park, September 1982).

Organized Working Women march, 1990.

Women who worked outside the home in the early 20th century were restricted to certain jobs and were paid far less than men in similar jobs. For example, women teachers were paid far less than men because it was assumed that men were supporting families and women were not, even though hundreds of women teachers supported their widowed mothers and sisters and brothers.

The Federation of Women Teachers’ Associations of Ontario (FWTAO) led the way in the fight for better working conditions and pay.

In World War 1, women replaced men in factories, businesses and the civil service, and the government provided day nurseries for their children. Once the war ended, the nurseries were closed and the women were sent home.

In the 1930s workers continued to organize for better working conditions. The largest Canadian local of the International

Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU), 5,000 dressmakers, went on strike.

In 1946, the Ontario Teachers' Federation approved a policy of equal opportunity and equal pay for Ontario schools.

The 1980s and 90s brought recessions, globalization and great technological change. Unions developed coalitions with social movements such as environmental and anti-poverty organizations.

In 2007, the Supreme Court of Canada recognized that collective bargaining is a right to free association protected by the

Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In the years since women began to organize for political and economic equality their impact on the evolution of the labour movement has been dramatic – women in unions have provided strong links with the women’s movement and supported other equity-seeking groups.

Concept and Research: Pat Staton Design by Ermanno Biot Offset Printing by Erica Alexander

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Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario

Ontario Women's History Network

Women's History Month 2015

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