Workplace Democracy

Many different things come to mind when we talk about democracy. The most common element, of course, is elections; but is this the only thing that makes a democracy? In fact, the exercise of democracy relies on participation from the people who are directly affected by the decisions made by their leaders. Without this participation, even an organization that has democratic practices and institutions can be undemocratic if not enough people participate in the decision-making process.

Democracy is an important concept to the labour movement. Most corporate workplaces are designed to be top-down, autocratic institutions, where the boss makes the rules and his/her subordinates have no choice but to follow those orders. Unions seek to address this fundamental power imbalance by introducing a democratic element into the workplace: Union membership gives employees the ability to vote for their representatives, bargaining proposals, contracts, strikes, etc. The idea that each member has one vote is important to establishing an important level of equality amongst the employees in a workplace, as well as giving those employees a say into the terms and conditions of their employment.

Unifor is one of the largest and most democratic unions in Canada, where the membership is the highest voice in the Union. Each member in good standing may vote on motions at meetings, stand for elected office, and elect Union officers. Between meetings elected representatives are empowered to make decisions on behalf of their coworkers and are subject to regular re-election.

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