Labour Studies Index

Updated: 2022-05-16

“We Will Go Side-by-Side with You.” Labour Union Engagement with Aboriginal Peoples in Canada

Document type Article
Author Clarke, Louise
Author Mills, Suzanne E.
Journal Geoforum
Volume 40
Date 2009
ISSN 0016-7185
Pages 991-1001


The inclusion of new groups of workers has been an important component of union renewal efforts. Sev- eral unions in Canada have begun to dedicate significant resources to better organize and represent Aboriginal workers. Drawing on interviews with union activists, organizers and representatives from two national public sector unions in Canada, we present an overview of union strategies to engage with Aboriginal peoples. Results suggest that understanding the distinct territorial context of Aboriginal peo- ples’ relationships to work and unions has been necessary to the success of these union strategies. This approach begins by drawing connections between Aboriginal peoples’ present-day relationships to work and their prior occupancy of, and dispossession from, lands and resources. Because of the geographical specificity of how the colonial experience affected Aboriginal peoples’ relationships to work and unions, unions have had to adopt non-normative approaches to their engagements with Aboriginal peoples. In workplaces where settlers were dominant, addressing racism in the workplace and gaining support for initiatives to hire and train Aboriginal workers were important. Alternatively, in Aboriginal workplaces, organizing was a priority. Here questions of union legitimacy have taken precedence and the focus of unions has been on partnership building. Most importantly, however, engagement with Aboriginal peo- ples has brought attention to the colonial practices within unions and helped to foster growing Aboriginal voice within the labour movement.