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21st Century Insights

Keep up with changes in the industry, and find out what's around the corner, with Joe Mulhall's thoughts about a 21st Century Union. Click on image under each topic to download the PDF.

Season's Greetings 2013

... from the Officers and Staff at CUSW

For many of you this is the first time that we have shared this time of year together. On behalf of all the members of CUSW: Welcome. You have joined an organization that is built on a set of Values and Beliefs that bind us together as we move forward to advance the interests of our members and their families.

In a world where people are rewarded for exploitation and greed it is not easy to maintain the vision of members helping members and collective good overcoming individual self-gratification. CUSW is built on the principle that by coming together both at work and at home we can make a better life for our members and the people around us.  

2013 has been a year where we have seen many changes in the way we interact with each other. There is a new face on the website that is more inviting and easier to access even for the novice.  The Unit and Committee webpages are taking on the voice of the members involved and are providing the entire membership with an up close look at the good work we are doing for our families and our communities. Those of you that use Smart Phones and Tablets can see the work of Joe Cook and the Technology committee in the mobile friendly web interface now available for these devices. The task of connecting the members across distance is flourishing as we see more and more members participating in online meetings at the Committee and Unit levels.  We are becoming one membership - committed to each other.

January 2014 will be the 15th Anniversary of CUSW.  We have created something very special and we need to take some time out to celebrate our success.  We enjoy some of the best collective agreements, some of the best health and welfare benefits and a great Retirement Plan for those that participate but we are much more than that.  We have created a home where the members can come together and build their future. There is no oppression from the “UNION” imposing their will on us because we are the union. Members make the decisions on who we are and what we do. Isn’t it great to know that if you can imagine it we can work together to make it happen. With your participation we can all continue to build a better tomorrow.

2014 is also an election year.  Beginning in January and running through until November we will be electing the workplace stewards, workplace Health and Safety representatives, National Executive Board members, Unit Executives and Delegates to the 2015 Convention. In July the newly elected NEB will be asking for nominations to fill the positions on all of the National Committees.  The members that come forward over the next year will help to move CUSW forward so please take the time to participate. The newly updated Innovation Station on the website is a great source for more details on the election process. Take a look.

Work is an integral part of our lives. With work come risks. Arriving home healthy and ready to share time with those whom we care about and who care about us is an achievable goal that we must all strive for. If you know of someone in your area that is retired or off work due to illness or injury please take the time to connect with them.  It will be extra special for them and for you at this time of year.  
On behalf of all those that make CUSW work for all of us – HAPPY HOLIDAYS.

– Joe Mulhall

Member Unions in an Information Economy

At the beginning of the 20th Century a new type of workplace emerged, driven by the advance of the Industrial Revolution. The mass production model dramatically shifted the relationship between the worker and the products that they produced. Artisans that produced goods and services for direct consumption in their local community were replaced by production workers that had no personal connection to the goods they produced. Workers became part of the production process and over time began to be treated as a commodity. The cost of goods and services was impacted by the price of labour in the same way as the price of iron ore or copper. Workers developed a sense of separation from the products they produced and employers began to treat them as a cost or liability and not as an investment and an asset.  

20th Century Unions emerged in this environment. Workers joined together to defend themselves against this treatment. Governments responded by passing laws recognizing Unions in an attempt to stabilize the relationships in the workplace. The characteristics of these emerging Unions were defined by these circumstances.

Unions were identified by the nature of the services these Institutions provided or by the workforce that was represented by their area of interest. These Unions grew into “Institutions” that paralleled the production process that had spurred their creation.

20th Century Unions were based on a model where the Institutions provided services to the members that were focused on dealing with the ills of the workplace and the market value of the human commodity. Workers were attached to their machines and did not have the opportunity to engage in the union representation model. Workers hired Unions to provide this level of representation on their behalf. The Institutions that emerged were seen as a third party and outside of the workplace. Social Scientists writing in the 20th century describe these unions as “Institutional” or “Business” Unions because of the relationship that existed between the union members and the Institutions that they hired to represent them.

As was the case with the mass production model where workers became separated from the goods and services they produced, over time workers also became separated from the Union Institutions that represented them in the workplace. In the United States where mass production models for goods and services were prominent, Union density increased rapidly after the Great Depression to almost 48% of the workforce by the late 1940’s. As the mass production model shifted with Globalization and the introduction of technology these numbers plummeted to about 10% of the workforce by 2010. An Era had ended and the structures that were built to respond to those conditions were being dismantled.

At the beginning of the 21st Century the economy was entering a New Era. Social researchers and Futurists are referring to this new era as the Information Age. The type of work involved in this New Age is once again shifting the relationship between the workers and the products they produce. The New Economy provides the opportunity for workers to once again come together and be connected to the work that they perform.  It is in this environment and with this knowledge of the future that CUSW was formed. As members we are positioned to come together under the legal banner of a union while at the same time building a community of workers that participate in the work that they perform. Instead of defending ourselves from the ills of work we now have the opportunity to participate in the success of the workplace through our own personal development and contribution.  

The role of the Union in the 21st Century is very different than what was needed a century ago. Workers are once again being seen as an asset and not as a commodity. Through the Union we can still come together to bargain collectively with the employer but these negotiations will focus on how we contribute to the success of the workplace and not on how we extract whatever we can from the process. The relationship with work can now be redefined so we as workers can enjoy and take pride in the work that we perform.

In 2014 CUSW will be celebrating our 15th Anniversary as a union.  We built CUSW on the concept of a Knowledge Worker that participates directly in the day to day operation of their Union while at the same time taking a leadership role in the workplace and in the Community. We designed CUSW in anticipation that the management structures that were built during the Industrial Era for the purpose of controlling people in the workplace would disappear. In the Information Age workers are valued for their contribution to the work that they perform. It is up to us collectively to come together to ensure that we realize the benefits of this opportunity.  The Enlightenment that began in the 17th Century continues today.

Enlightenment - the state of having knowledge or understanding: the act of giving someone knowledge or understanding.

– Joe Mulhall

CUSW – Creating Innovative Solutions through Ideas and Participation

Globalization, Deregulation and Privatization... These were the three words that motivated us to move forward to build a Union for the 21st Century. We needed to build a Union where we as members could come together and share our common interests.

We needed to build a Union that provided us with the flexibility to respond to the opportunities that would emerge as the Canadian economy restructured in response to mobility of Capital. We began the modernization of our Union in 1999 and I am pleased to say that we have built that Union. In 2014 we will be celebrating the 15th Anniversary of the Canadian Union of Skilled Workers. As part of our transition we have made some very dynamic changes to the way that we organize the relationship between the members and the organization we call the union.

With the new Constitution firmly in place and supported by the membership, we began the shift from a top-down service provider type of union to an organization that responds to the needs of the members and their families.

The thought that the President is the “boss” or authority figure within CUSW needed to be pushed out of the way so that the members could move forward and create the reality that has become CUSW.

I am pleased to report that we have made great progress in this direction. Communication has shifted from a central voice (the union office) to a choir of voices flowing from every part of the organization.

Messaging now flows in all directions within the organization. We can see and feel real life in the circle we designed (above) to display how we function as an organization. It has truly come alive.

The interplay between the members and the structures that we created to govern our activities is becoming more and more a seamless flow of ideas amongst thought leaders. Members who take on roles such as steward, health and safety representative or Unit Executive member also participate in policy development through their involvement in the National Committees. Ideas that are generated in one area, as we seek solutions to issues, are implemented elsewhere within CUSW simply because they are really good ideas.

Members have embraced the concept that within CUSW there is no restriction on the creation of ideas. Whenever we ask for members to come forward and contribute through involvement we are overwhelmed with the number and quality of the people who respond.

The NEB Strategy meeting in September identified that we have moved forward far enough in our transition to reignite the concept of the “knowledge worker”. This is a concept that was introduced back in 1999 when we embarked on our journey. A “knowledge worker” is a person that can see and understand the changes that are taking place in the world around us.

As we move forward building the 21st Century Union we need the input and ideas of all of the members of CUSW in determining the path that we will follow. To help provide a window on the social and economic changes that are impacting our lives, the NEB has approved the “Innovation Station” (, in addition to, and the monthly Broadcast that is produced on the 2nd Tuesday of each month and the “Labour Leadership” support through MCI.

Another part of stimulating participation in the future direction of CUSW will come through a monthly update that will be known simply as “Share some 21st Century Insights with Joe Mulhall”. I will write on developments in society and industry from this vantage point. It will be good to get back to generating both controversy and healthy debate through information.

The 1990’s gave us the I’ll believe it when I see it – “Show me” mentality. But this mental outlook is not helpful in creating a future in the 21st Century. The challenge for us at CUSW is to shift our thought to embrace innovation, creativity and fresh new ideas. Sometimes it is as simple as rearranging some words. The 21st Century will give us the - I will see it when I believe it – “Imagine it” mentality.

– Joe Mulhall

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