PREVIEW

In the office: a big business approach to white collar unionism

MURRAY GOLDBLATT June 30 1962
PREVIEW

In the office: a big business approach to white collar unionism

MURRAY GOLDBLATT June 30 1962

In the office: a big business approach to white collar unionism

Minus the tub-thumping that accompanies some trade union ventures, the Canadian labor movement is engaged in a drive to enlist white-collar workers. Results of any importance are not expected for several years, but the machinery will be started soon. Before it goes into high gear, union leaders will try to pretest the program by borrowing a tool from big business. They will turn to the motivational researchers, sociologists and opinion samplers — the kind of professionals whose plotting of industrial fever charts has often

been derided by old-line unionists. As the campaign develops, it may see the emergence of a newkind of labor organizer. recruited from outside the union movement and trained for a job at which the old-timers have failed.

Organized labor sees a need to establish itself in the white-collar and service industry fields, where an estimated 500.000 workers remain outside the fold, if the trade union movement is to retain its authority in the next decade. With the increase of mechanization, the complexion of the labor force is chang-

ing from blue-collar to white, but the unions have made a poor showing in the industries that are expanding most rapidly. In hanking, real estate and insurance, enrollment is still close to zero. In the burgeoning retail and wholesale trades, union organization is below seven percent. In the service industries —personal, recreation, community and government—it is under 20 percent. The Office Employees International Union, after years of effort, has barely pushed past 5.000 members, and some of these are employed in the unions’ own offices. The Retail Clerks International Union lists fewer than 8,500 members.

Against this background, the Vancouver convention of the Canadian Labor Congress directed a central group of planners to map the new campaign. It has listed some preliminary objectives: creation of a fund to finance research and education activities; hiring of a skilled staffer to direct these activities under the CLC’s organization department; and the launching of a training program for organizers of the future, probably under the aegis of the Canadian Labor College which is to begin functioning in Montreal next year.

The steering committee’s first target, however, is a survey of the potential recruits. What kind of workers are they, what are their economic conditions, their goals, their feelings about welfare benefits, their prospects of security? Are they becoming less a group of individuals and more a bundle of payroll items? All this may require more than a conventional opinion poll; the CLC committee therefore will endos se a study-within-a-study to determine what type of survey is best.

The membership drive will have its

jurisdictional problems. Strong industrial unions like the Steelworkers have office employees in their ranks and would be reluctant to surrender them to a new craft union. The CLC will undoubtedly set up a white-collar department. and this could develop into the kind of white-collar federation that has grown up in Sweden. Such a federation, closely allied to the central labor body, may be the only way to command the attention and prestige the campaign needs if it is to rescue the Canadian labor movement from eventual stagnation. MURRAY GOLDBLATT