Worker’s Pride: Labour Unions and our History

The Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) was one of the supporters of Calgary’s 2013 Pride Parade.  A volunteer association of unions and employee organizations, the AFL also has a Pride and Solidarity Standing Committee, “…to encourage active involvement of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons in union activities and other activities affecting them, to promote, audit and organize educational programs concerning gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons in the workplace…” among other elements.  This has not always been the case.  The bond between labour and LGBTQ people has developed slowly over the last 30 years and the rise of public service associations.

Canadian WORKERUnions began to grow in importance in the 1960s with massive strikes that lead to long term change, such as the Federal Public Service Staff Relations Act, 1967, which gave public servants collective bargaining rights.  The push for ongoing dialogue between union and employer served as examples to gay and lesbian activists on how to get organized, and created the avenues for their own dialogue in the work environment.  As well, they saw the workers as member of the locals as needing to have their rights protected. According to historians Gary Kinsman, the rise of the Canadian Union of Public Employees and the formation of the Public Service Alliance of Canada in 1966, began to make it more difficult for RCMP and employers to ask about a person’s sexuality. Kinsman states that:

“Because one of the things the new unions challenged was the sort of paramilitary or quasi-military hierarchy that was in the public service, and the various forms of discipline that took place.  And that obviously opened up some more space for lesbians and gays who were employed in the public service to begin to organize and, eventually, begin to speak out.”

[TM]

Sources and Further Reading

Canadian Labour – http://www.canadianlabour.ca/human-rights-equality/pride

Troster, Ariel. “The Canadian War on Queer Workers”, Our Times, Vol 29 Issue 3 June-July 2010. http://ourtimes.ca/Features/article_127.php

Highlights in Canadian Labour History – http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/highlights-in-canadian-labour-history-1.850282

Tom Warner. Never Going Back, a history of queer activism in Canada. University of Toronto Press, 2002.

Gary Kinsman and Patrizia Gentile. The Canadian War on Queers: National Security as Sexual Regulation. UBC Press, 2010.

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