The seeds of this great union were planted in the late 1800s by our fathers and mothers, our grandparents, our great-grandparents and so on. They were seeds of commitment, solidarity and a common interest to fight for better conditions for working people everywhere.
Through wars and recessions, good times and bad times, we established our family roots: better wages, job security, reasonable hours and safer working conditions. Thanks to the strength and activism of our members, our branches reached out to lead movements to stop child labour, provide aid to injured workers,, fight for retirees, stand up for human rights and so much more.
Review highlights of our proud history in the timeline below.
The Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) established its own organizing committee for paperworkers.
Steel Workers Organizing Committee (SWOC) forms. First Canadian meeting was held at the Labour Temple in Hamilton where 18 Stelco workers formed 1005.
SWOC organizes 3,000 new members at Algoma Steel in Sault Ste. Marie, forming Local 2251. Quebec workers organized at Montreal’s Stelco operation and laid the foundation for Steelworkers Local 1195.
"On the 13th of December (1936) we held our first meeting – now we were C.I.O., SWOC – started with 10 names. By March we must have had 3,000 members. Oh, they just flocked. We hired halls all over town," George MacEachern recalled in his autobiography. The independent Steel Workers of Nova Scotia became SWOC Local 1064, one of the earliest Steelworker locals in Canada. Dues were 25 cents a month.
By 1942, with 700,000 members in Canada and the U.S., SWOC was ready to become an autonomous, international union. Delegates attended a SWOC convention in Cleveland to create the United Steelworkers of America. The USW adopted its own constitution, created geographic districts, and elected its own officers including Philip Murray as President and Charles Millard as Canadian Director.
"Our fundamental goals today are no different than they were in 1936 and 1942 – to improve the working and personal lives of our members and to bring these improvements to the total society – today, tomorrow, next year, next century." Lynn Williams, USW International President Emeritus, at the USW's 50th anniversary in 1992. Williams was one of the first staff representatives in Canada.
USWA holds the first secret-ballot referendum for international officers, district directors, and national director for Canada. Charlie Millard was elected as our first Director.
Steelworkers in Hamilton, Ontario, win historic strike for union recognition at Steel Company of Canada (later Stelco), using solidarity, organization, and political and community support to overcome more than 1,000 company scabs and firmly establish the USWA as the predominant union in Hamilton.
Steelworkers negotiated a 40-hour workweek. The two first plants were Stelco in Hamilton and Algoma in Sault Ste. Marie. Steelworker activists throughout Canada used the victory as a new baseline to define the work week in contracts in every sector. A 40-hour workweek later became standard for all workers because of the widespread success of the labour movement
The long struggle to establish the Steelworkers as the union for miners at the Noranda-owned Gaspe Copper Mine in Murdochville, Quebec. A seven-month strike in 1957 for union recognition was one of the pivotal labour struggles in the province and set the stage for the ‘Quiet Revolution’. It took another nine years after the ’57 strike for the union to be certified. The mine and smelter were closed by 2002, effectively turning Murdochville into a ghost town.
Steelworkers join other trade unionists to help create the New Democratic Party (NDP) in Canada.
NDP government in Saskatchewan enacts Medical Insurance Act, the beginning of universal health care in Canada
Solbec miners in Quebec participated in a historical strike fighting for the remittance of union dues. Steelworkers had to collect monthly dues from each worker. Winning in 1965 the remittance of dues, the right to negotiate in French with multi-employers became a very important victory for the FTQ. By the end of the '60s it allowed the Steelworkers in Quebec to create an international strike and defense fund.
Uranium miners in Elliott Lake took action for the necessary health and safety protections that the company refused to provide. The result was a Royal Commission and changes to provincial legislation, which benefitted every worker in Ontario. Without the leadership of the union and the activism of rank-and-file Steelworkers, the risks faced on the job would be even greater.
The Steelworkers were one of the first unions to obtain collective agreement language around creating health and safety committees within workplaces. Activists in Quebec broadened the fight and advocated, demonstrated and took action to pass loi 17 by the PQ, the right to refuse unsafe work. This language was later adopted by provincial governments throughout Canada.
Five women in Hamilton filed an Ontario Human Rights Commission complaint to force Stelco to hire women production workers. These were some of the best-paying, most-prestigious industrial jobs in Canada. The 'Women Back Into Stelco' victory by the Steelworkers created a new legal standard and forced not just Stelco but every other industry to begin hiring women. More broadly, it challenged the gender division of labour and undermined the idea of ‘feminine’ work.
The first Women of Steel committee was formed in Canada by USW Local 2900 shop stewards Nancy Farmer and Bev Brown. It was rare in industrialized workplaces for women to play leading roles in the union, but the progressive union executive created a culture of respect in the workplace for women and LGBTQ people. These courageous activists like Nancy and Bev helped shift the culture within our union to accept women and LGBTQ people as fellow trade unionists.
Lynn R. Williams elected USWA President, the first Canadian to head an international AFL-CIO union.
Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees and the Humanity Fund are created.
Women of Steel becomes formalized in the union structure with the creation of a woman’s leadership course and committees at each member local.
Restructuring of Algoma Steel creates the largest employee-owned company in Canada, saving 6,000 jobs and the community of Sault Ste. Marie, and leading to the modernization of a company that continues to employ thousands of Steelworkers and serves as the economic anchor of its community.
Canadian Steelworkers, backed by 40 labour and human rights groups, file first-ever complaint under NAFTA's labour side agreement, supporting the attempt by an independent Mexican steelworkers union to organize a brake manufacturing plant near Mexico City.
Massive Steelworker participation in the 'Battle of Seattle' helps to establish a labour-environmental alliance against "globalization in the hands of multinational CEOs," which President George Becker says is "destroying millions of industrial jobs, degrading the environment, and undermining our basic rights as workers and citizens."
More than 4,000 administrative and technical support staff at the University of Toronto ratify their first collective agreement as members of USW Local 1998, expanding the benefits of Steelworker representation to workers in higher education with the largest single organizing victory in years.
USW Local 4120 is chartered at the University of Guelph, bringing the number of university employees represented by the Steelworkers to more than 5,000.
After a decade-long campaign led by Steelworkers in Canada, the Westray Bill is finally passed into law, changing Canada's Criminal Code to make corporations, their directors and executives criminally accountable for putting workers' lives at risk.
After a year-long campaign to win Steelworker representation, 3,000 former members of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees on Canadian National Railway are certified as Steelworkers by the Canada Industrial Relations Board.
The USW and the Sierra Club announced the formation of a strategic alliance to pursue a joint public policy agenda under the banner of Good Jobs, A Clean Environment, and A Safer World.
The USW and Unite form Workers Uniting, the first global union.
The USW Canada and Environmental Defence joined forces and found the working-class environmental organization Blue Green Canada
The Steelworkers Vote program that trains and educates members to become engaged in the political process helped the federal NDP become the Official Opposition. Nicknamed the Orange Wave, the rise of the NDP under Jack Layton’s leadership raised the expectations of working people and shifted the discourse in our country to begin talking about progressive taxation, urban issues and income inequality.
The USW launched the “Give everyone a chance” campaign to pressure the government into overhauling the Temporary Foreign Worker Program that creates two-tier working conditions and gives bosses total control over workers’ status. The government responded to the Steelworkers’ public pressure and began amending the program rules.