The term “labour” means all people that sell their ability to work to someone else in exchange for wages and the ability to survive, no matter what type of work they do. “Labour” includes individuals typically between the ages of sixteen and sixty-five who work either full or part time; who are transient workers like fast food workers, semi-skilled workers like secretaries, or professionals such as teachers. Labour also includes those that are self employed. The self employed may hire workers to assist in their wage earning but hiring doesn’t remove the self employed from the labour pool since they typically are required to add their own ability to earn a living.
It was interesting that people who own and control large companies or who have large investment incomes aren’t part of “labour” since they don’t earn these wages through their own physical labour. I assumed everyone would be classified as labour if they somehow supported the economy. I was under the impression that company owners would be selling their entrepreneurial talent and they would be classified as labour. Now I see that most investors or company owners pay others to invest for them instead of doing the actual work of investing or running the company. This means they are not selling their actual ability to earn a living.
The labour movement is a network of organizations created by workers to turn their collective problems, experiences, and interests into a united force for political and economic change. The labour movement began with trade unions and then looked at larger social and political concerns. The working class is the base of the labour movement and the movement tries to represent these workers and advance an all inclusive program of social reform or sometimes radical change. The labour movement has primarily attempted to confront government over larger issues that affect workers lives such as education, health, housing, and environment.
The unions were created to help overcome the powerlessness of the individual worker relative to the employer in the workplace and labour market. Unions are able to replace individual competition with collective solidarity and action so that workers have a stronger voice in workplace decisions. The union has the ability to effect change through workplace pressures on the company to respect the worker’s economic and workplace rights. The union plays a vital part in giving the workers a voice to set pay rates, benefits and working conditions. I have worked in unionized environments at the City of Calgary and the Michener Institute and have observed this happen.
Finally, this community has allowed the unions to become politically more powerful. Unions are able to assist in the struggle for political rights such as for women and the propertyless to vote and for social rights such as universal health care and other public services. The pressures that can be put on government and companies by unions can help to initiate change in the social structure of Canada.