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Women and Unions

Prior to the Second World War, the presence of women in the workforce was small. In Canada, women made up 15% of the labour force in 1921 (White, 1993). As a result, unions did not begin to recruit women until later in the 20th century. Once women began working en masse, their involvement in unions grew as well. Between the 1960s to 1980s women’s membership in North American unions doubled (Kirton, 2017).

A Woman's Place is in her Union button

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The phrase “a woman’s place is in her union” has been a popular slogan amongst trade unions. It appears on many Canadian union buttons, such as this CUPE button. The phrase is meant to challenge traditional proverbs like: ‘a woman’s place is in the home’ and ‘a woman’s place in the kitchen’.

In 1979, the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW) held its first biennial national convention ("About CLUW", n.d.). The theme for that year was ‘A Woman’s Place is in Her Union’ and they produced buttons with the slogan, like this blue and white button.

This orange button was made for the United Auto Workers (UAW), known as Traveilleurs canadiens de l’automobile (TUA) in French. The Canadian wing of the UAW was formed in 1937 but it split from the union to form the Canadian Auto Workers union (CAW) in 1986.

The UAW has a long history of encouraging the involvement of women in their organization. During its struggle for union recognition in the 1930s to 1940s, women’s auxiliaries were created to support striking workers. When more women joined the workforce during World War II, the UAW fought for equal pay for women doing the same work as men.

In 1973, a Canadian Women’s Advisory Council was created to correspond with the Canadian director of the UAW on women’s issues. However, there weren’t any women in leadership positions and it wasn’t until 1976 that the Canadian UAW began to hire women. The union made many advances in the workplace and advocated for women’s rights more generally.

The date of this button is not clear but it was potentially created after the 1979 CLUW convention and before the split of the UAW and formation of the CAW in 1986. The button is union-made with an Allied Printing Trades Council label.

A Woman's Place is in the Struggle button

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This Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) button was made for International Women’s Day (IWD) on March 8, which celebrates women and their accomplishments. IWD emerged out of the labour movements of the early twentieth century and was internationally recognized in 1975.

The slogan in the middle of the button - ‘A woman’s place is in the struggle’ is similar to another popular union slogan: ‘A woman’s place is in her union’. They are both meant to challenge traditional proverbs, such as ‘a woman’s place is in the home’ and ‘a woman’s place is in the kitchen’. Slogans about ‘a woman’s place’ have been criticized for their passivity, however, and new slogans like ‘strong unions need women’ have become more popular (Kirton, 2017).

The phrase on this button is an alteration of the common CUPW slogan, 'The Struggle Continues'. This slogan can be seen on one of their more popular buttons, which you can learn more about here

The button has an Allied Printing Trades Council button with the shop number 118. It was manufactured by Mutual/Hadwen Imaging Technologies Inc. in Ottawa.

Women in Trades buttons

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As part of the feminist movement of the 1970s and 1980s, women began to call for equity in all sectors, including male-dominated occupations. These two buttons show support for women working in the trades sector. Both buttons modify the gender symbol for women in order to represent trades work: the light blue button shows the gender sign shaped like a screw and the dark blue button shows a raised fist holding a wrench. The symbol of the raised fist within the gender sign for women was common during the Women’s Liberation Movement of the 1960s-1980s. Robin Morgan designed one of the more famous buttons that combines the fist and the gender sign for the 1969 Miss America Pageant protest. The raised fist has been widely used for political, civil rights, and labour movements to represent solidarity, resistance, and strength.

Both buttons were manufactured by Boothe Kent Co. in Toronto, Ontario. Within the fold, there is an illegible union printing label.

CAW TCA International Women's Day button

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This button was created for International Women’s Day on March 8, 1991 by the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW).

CAW was formed following the split of the Canadian wing from the United Auto Workers (UAW) in 1986. It eventually dissolved in 2013 when it merged with the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada to form Unifor, the largest private sector union in the country.

The red rose is likely in commemoration of the fourteen women killed in the École Polytechnique massacre on December 6, 1989. The red rose symbol was embraced by women in response to the White Ribbon Campaign, which was initiated by men to protest violence against women (Goldrick-Jones, 2004). Many women wanted to control this discourse and protect December 6 from “male appropriation” (Goldrick-Jones, 2006, para. 32).

The popular 'red rose and lace' imagery was designed by Toronto-based artist Joss MacLennan for a poster she created for the National Action Committee on the Status of Women (NAC). According to MacLennan, the lace represents “domestic ‘safety’” while the red rose represents the roses left at École Polytechnique following the massacre (Goldrick-Jones, 2006, para. 35).

This button was manufactured by Muir Cap, which is now known as Muir Cap and Regalia Ltd. The company is best known for making uniform caps and badges. An illegible union printing label beside the stem of the rose indicates that the button is union-made.

Equal Pay for Work of Equal Value button

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This button shows support for national efforts to establish equal pay for work of equal value, eventually called pay equity.

Pay equity is the idea that two different jobs that provide equivalent value should receive the same pay. The comparison is made between jobs commonly held by women and jobs commonly held by men in order to reveal gender discrimination in how work is valued. It is different from ‘equal pay for equal work’ which compares how much men and women are paid doing the same jobs.

In the 1970s, Laurell Ritchie organized a group of women to discuss their plans for achieving equal pay for work of equal value in Ontario. Together they formed the Equal Pay Coalition in 1976. The Coalition’s lobbying efforts led to Canada’s first legislation for pay equity in 1987, the Ontario Pay Equity Act.

Under this legislation, employers were required to arrange pay equity plans with any bargaining representative. Unions became an extremely important part of this process ("History of Pay Equity Advocacy in Ontario", n.d.), acting as designated agents to negotiate workers’ rights for pay equity. Non-unionized workers, however, did not have a clear representative to address the pay gap with their employers.

The pay gap continues to affect women in Ontario. The gap is significantly higher for women with disabilities, racialized and Indigenous women, and immigrant women.

The button is union made with a union printing label that is not legible.

Women and Unions