In 1921, in Hull, Québec, 220 workers representing eighty unions from various industrial sectors participated in a convention to found the Confederation of Catholic Workers of Canada (CCWC). At the time, the clergy held considerable influence in Québec. The CCWC distinguished itself from the American labour movement by supporting autonomous trade unionism.
The CCWC worked to address the exploitation of workers in unsanitary factories and challenged the complacency and corruption of political officials in the midst of intolerable conditions. At the same time, it also strongly opposed American economic domination, as well as domination by American unions, among other struggles.
In 1960, the CCWC secularized and changed its name to the Confédération des syndicats nationaux (Federation of National Trade Unions), or CSN. All Québec was in turmoil as it emerged from the period known as the “Great Darkness.” For the young CSN, the scope of union action was to transform all aspects of life at work: wages, job security, and pensions, but also dangerous work conditions, discrimination of all kinds, hierarchies, exhausting work schedules, arbitrariness, lack of training – everything that affects the dignity of workers. The CSN fights for respect.
The history of the CSN is also the history of Québec, in which the union has deep roots. In 1980, the CSN officially opted to support Québec’s political sovereignty. It has been a consistent stakeholder in popular struggles and debates for a fairer, more equal, and democratic society. Whether for the right to unionize, women’s equality in the labour force, or in the struggle against discrimination of all kinds, the CSN has always taken a strong stance against injustice. Its actions are inspired by the will and capacity of workers, and of the general population, to improve their daily lives.
The CSN has participated in many struggles to improve the living and working conditions of thousands of workers and Québeckers.
Current efforts of this kind include struggles for:
- Improvements to the Employment Insurance program and introduction of anti-scab legislation at the federal level;
- Free bargaining rights for all workers;
- Access to a free and universal public health care system;
- Protection of French as a language in the workplace;
- The rights to freedom of expression and information;
- Prevention in occupational health and safety practices;
- The right to a decent income for all retired workers;
- Development of the manufacturing and forestry sectors;
- Implementation of a true sustainable development policy.
Today’s CSN upholds, with equal conviction, the needs for political, economic, social, and union transformation, to improve the quality of life and wellbeing of its members, and of society as a whole.