Work in Pre-Industrial Rural Society
Until the late 19th century, Canada was a traditional RURAL SOCIETY in which work was for the majority of the population directly related to the production of life's staples. The purposes and circumstances of farming activities of production were an intimate part of the individual's social life and the general organization of society. Independent workers (farmers or artisans) generally owned their own means of production and organized their work as they wished. Much of what the farmers produced was consumed in rural households. The rest was for the most part sold in nearby towns and villages.
Despite the independence and the nature of the work (both of which distinguished farmers from shop or factory workers), traditional farmers accomplished arduous and demanding work with rudimentary tools. The result of their labours depended largely on the caprices of temperature and climate; they were often as bound to local merchants and moneylenders for funds to acquire land, animals, etc, as were workers in town to their employer. In order to earn money to cover their farming expenses, many farmers became seasonal employees.
Since its economy was based on the exploitation of natural resources, Canada provided raw materials for the mother country rather than to produce finished goods. Work in the other resource industries was no easier than in agriculture. The early FUR TRADE demanded great endurance, and the portages were strewn with the graves of VOYAGEURS who expired under their heavy loads. Logging attracted rural youth, peasants and immigrants, but it was seasonal and required great physical endurance (see TIMBER TRADE HISTORY). Loggers lived in primitive lodgings and worked long days on meagre rations; beans, fresh beef, salted bacon and lard were not introduced to the menu until the 1850s. In the spring, the work was dangerous and demanded great agility. The drivers (raftsmen) worked 16-hour days, often in icy water up to their waists. This was also the age when squared logs were floated in log booms down the Ottawa and St Lawrence rivers to Québec City, a voyage of about 2 months.
Fishing was another seasonal activity with long hours for highly variable results that depended on the whims of climate and the availability of fish. Earnings fluctuated with the market, making it hard for fishermen to survive without supplementary work in agriculture or forestry (see FISHERIES HISTORY).
In secondary industry, it was the age of the independent producer of commodities, such as furniture, and of the establishment of carding houses, sawmills, flour mills, breweries and distilleries, tanneries and foundries. The work was usually done in small shops employing 3 or 4 men; eg, the proprietor, a master artisan, one or 2 companions and a few apprentices. Employer-employee relationships were paternalistic, especially in the APPRENTICESHIP system. For 3 to 10 years, the apprentice was bound by a contract under which his master was virtually his father. The apprentice could not absent himself without his master's permission, could not marry and was sworn to keep the secrets of his master's trade. In return, the master had to provide the apprentice with food, lodging and an acceptable amount and quality of education.
However, the apprenticeship system became a form of bonded labour rather than a craft-training program accompanied by moral and educational supervision. As the masters accumulated capital, increased their production demands and took on more apprentices to do the dirty and often unskilled work required in the shop, apprentices experienced only the tyranny of their obligations and resented their masters' inadequate or totally nonexistent compliance with their own responsibilities.
Qualified artisans, who prior to the 20th century comprised about 10% of the urban labour force, formed a well-paid workers' aristocracy whose social status was closer to that of the middle class. A craftsman earned twice as much as a day-labourer, 4 times as much as a domestic servant. Women (see WOMEN IN THE LABOUR FORCE and children in the labour force were the most poorly paid, and one worker in 5 lived in extreme poverty.
A working-class culture had already appeared in the FOOTWEAR INDUSTRY and TEXTILE INDUSTRY and among the French Canadian workers who floated the log booms to Québec City and workers (usually IRISH and other immigrants) seasonally employed in the construction camps to build the transportation networks of railways and canals needed to link the resource-producing areas to the port cities where resources were exported. Work conditions were hard, hours long. Monthly salaries were low and were often paid in the form of chits that could only be used in the company store, where the price of merchandise was invariably inflated. Entrepreneurs frequently disappeared without paying the labourers, who were generally charged high rents for miserable quarters where the hygiene standards often led to EPIDEMICS of cholera, fever and other illnesses.
Work and the Industrial Revolution
As in other Western countries, the development of a free-market ECONOMY that accompanied the industrialization of Canada from the middle of the 19th century drastically altered the nature of work for most individuals. Work lost its intrinsic value and became a way to earn a living, a commodity to buy and sell like other goods. The evolution of society progressively eliminated the direct relationship between the productive effort of individuals and the consumption of goods and services.
As Canada's rural economy, based on self-sufficiency, changed to an industrial economy characterized by an increasingly more sophisticated and complex system of production and exchange, production enterprises themselves were transformed, the number of occupations increased, work conditions and organization changed, and work took on a new meaning in relationship to the other activities of life.
In the mid-19th century, with the development of means of TRANSPORTATION (CANALS, RAILWAYS) and the appearance of the steam engine, the first factories and large businesses appeared in the major urban centres. While the first factories (in glass, clothing, and shipbuilding industries) were set up in Nova Scotia, industrialization was soon centralized in Ontario and Québec (Montréal, Hamilton, Toronto) in the tobacco and textile industries, in foundries, and in the railway-supplies business. The demand for unskilled labour (especially for construction gangs) and the numbers of skilled workers (eg, carpenters, bricklayers, tailors, and foundry and leather workers) grew rapidly.
Even then, traditional enterprises - eg, small stores, offices, craft and manufacturing shops (businesses in which several craftsmen and apprentices still did handwork) - remained very important. Workers in these shops maintained considerable control over their own activities, including working conditions, prices for their services and products, and the hiring of their apprentices. Employer-employee relations remained largely personal and production continued to be primarily determined by commissions received.
The turning point came in the last third of the 19th century with the introduction of the factory system, in which workers were considered a cost of production. To minimize costs, owners tried to "rationalize" production by reducing the freedom and autonomy of the workers in the small workshops, closely regulating working hours, increasing the work pace and dividing jobs previously done by one person into several simpler jobs requiring fewer skills. To further reduce costs and increase productivity, they also introduced more machines to replace workers. The system, which spread everywhere, was based on techniques of co-ordination, supervision and discipline of the work force.
Workers laboured under a harsh system of disciplinary (eg, they were forbidden to talk, to leave their posts, to be late) and of punitive measures (fines, dismissals, physical abuse), which were later complemented with more sophisticated techniques of persuasion, manipulation and economic incentives. Men, women and children were hired for low wages in return for long hours of work in poor and unsafe conditions. The "sweatshop system" (which still exists), under which maximum labour was extracted from workers for minimum salary (especially with the piecework system) and in conditions where the usual rules of health, safety and comfort were ignored, appeared at this time, especially in the textile and food industries. This system was linked with contract and subcontract labour carried out in the workers' homes.
System of Exploitation
The new system of exploitation was described in the Royal Commission on the Relations of Labour and Capital (1889): meals taken at the work post; lack of job security; poor protection against the belts, pullies and steam engines; lack of compensation for victims of industrial accidents; crowded and unhealthy conditions; authoritarian discipline; widespread child labour; frequent unemployment; permanent material insecurity; and inferior housing and unsanitary environmental conditions.
Emergence of White-Collar Occupations
The processes of concentration, centralization and bureaucratization accelerated after the turn of the century with the increase in the size of business enterprises and government. The work process became even more rationalized and specialized. Companies needed more administrators, managers and intermediaries and clerical help. The administrative revolution signalled the beginning of 2 major changes in the composition of the labour force: the emergence of white-collar occupations and the movement of women into paid labour.
Furthermore, the increasing mechanization, fragmentation and simplification of work created a growing demand for unskilled labour. This heavy demand was met by the use of IMMIGRANT LABOUR for the most unpleasant, dirty, dangerous and ill-paid positions. A large number in the tens of thousands of do-anything labourers "BUNKHOUSE MEN," employed in the construction camps for railways, hydroelectric dams and industrial projects, in mining and lumber camps were also immigrants considered a more docile labour force. Many of them worked for little pay and under very unsafe working conditions in the coal mines developed on Vancouver Island and in Alberta to satisfy the demand for coal generated by the construction and operation of the transcontinental railway.
The "Company Town"
The COMPANY TOWN appeared along with this rapid development of primary (especially mining) and secondary (textiles, pulp and paper, etc) industries. In these new industrial centres, which sprang up like mushrooms, the employer controlled not only the work but also all the other institutions and material facilities necessary to the life of the population: housing, stores, water and sewage systems, etc. These centres were concentrated in Ontario, Québec, Alberta and BC.
The Factory System
The factory system, which by 1920 had made wage labour the norm and virtually eliminated craft production, underwent at that time a remarkable refinement of its policies and methods of co-ordination, supervision and work specialization through the introduction of the scientific management and the techniques of mass production. Under this scientific management (Taylorism), work was characterized by a more complex division of labour, based on the increased separation of the design and planning of work (mental work) and its execution (manual work), by the separation and simplification of tasks, by the assignment of workers to specific tasks through selection procedures, by the regulation of the pace of work, by economic incentives (piecework, bonus systems, etc) linking earnings to effort, and by an increase in supervisory and managerial staff.
Mass-production techniques such as the assembly line reinforced the principles of precision, economy, continuity, speed and repetition. Introduced by Henry Ford in the AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY, the latter new method consisted of organizing production in a repetitive sequence of interrelated and integrated simple operations performed by unskilled workers. The objective of these new systems was to reduce as much as possible the real control over work processes (methods, standards, pace) which skilled industrial workers had retained despite the new managerial policies.
Workers reacted in a variety of ways to the profound changes in work and working conditions. Individually, they resorted to industrial sabotage, insubordination, absenteeism, occupational mobility, refusal of work; collectively, they used demonstrations, such as the WINNIPEG GENERAL STRIKE, the ON TO OTTAWA TREK during the GREAT DEPRESSION, pickets, various forms of STRIKE, and above all the formation of LABOUR ORGANIZATIONS. A federal law of 1872 had removed workers' associations from the provisions of criminal law, but not until almost 30 years later were federal laws protecting workers adopted (eg, the 1900 Conciliation Act on voluntary conciliation and ARBITRATION, and the federal Industrial Disputes Investigation Act of 1907 concerning inquiries into industrial disputes). Among the first laws regulating working conditions were the manufacturing laws adopted in 1884 in Ontario and in 1885 in Québec; those concerning woman and child labour adopted in Québec in 1910; and those concerning work-related accidents adopted in Québec in 1909 and in Ontario in 1914.
Most of these early protective laws were hard to apply and often inoperative because of highly inadequate and almost toothless inspection services. However, once workers' unions were recognized, LABOUR LAW developed into an increasingly complex institutional apparatus and labour laws were progressively improved and broadened. SOCIAL SECURITY legislation also developed considerably in the postwar years.
The development of increasingly large and concentrated factories and companies has been marked by extensive mechanization and automation which greatly eased the physical burden of work. However, often times the physical environment of modern work exposes workers to the risks of poor ventilation, excessive heat and noise, dust and air POLLUTION, toxic gas, acids and radioactive substances (see OCCUPATIONAL DISEASES). Also, despite its diversity, work is characterized in most cases by repetitive, meaningless, narrow and specialized tasks which require little skill and training and involve little responsibility. These conditions generate boredom, stress and a sense of worthlessness. Semiskilled workers who may have developed certain skills while learning a specific task in a specific context usually find these skills useless when and if they change jobs.
Whatever the workplace - a small business with paternalistic employer-employee relations or a large one where authority is bureaucratic and impersonal - most workers must follow orders and directives telling them the purpose of their work, its methods and pace, and even behaviour patterns that are only indirectly related to the work itself.
Working for oneself (eg, in SMALL BUSINESS) has always been an attractive way to escape the problems associated with wage labour, but the joys of such an escape are often illusory. For many, the dream ends in bankruptcy; for the successful minority, it takes long hours of hard, stubborn work and many disillusionments. However, in prolonged periods of high unemployment, the number of independent workers tends to increase not so much by choice but rather by necessity. Recent figures put the proportion of the labour force in that category at no more than 10%.
The Tertiary Sector
The majority of active and experienced LABOUR FORCE in Canada now belongs to nonmanual occupational groups. Known as the tertiary sector, it includes office workers, specialized staff and technicians, administrators, teachers, nurses, salespeople and commercial workers. The growth in this sector has been most sustained and impressive among office workers, administrators, specialized staff and technicians. This growth has been attributed to the increased size of companies, multinational corporations, and public administrations and services, the growing complexity of financial activities, the increased importance of marketing, and the growth in the creation and processing of information.
Until the 1920s, clerical work was not as mechanized or rationalized as manual labour, but since then and especially since WWII, office and sales work has been progressively mechanized, specialized, downgraded and simplified. Most of it is now carried on in the impersonal world of the major corporations where a clear gap exists between employees and supervisors. The so-called "professional" nonmanual occupations (administrators, specialized staff and technicians), which offer the most interesting work and should have retained considerable autonomy, have also been affected. The very idea of the professions has been changed.
Because of the prestige associated with those who carry out professional activities in Canada, many nonmanual occupational groups have tried to win social and governmental recognition for their activities (eg, real-estate salespeople, hairdressers, etc). The traditional idea of profession has been so extended that observers speak of the "professionalization" of the labour force. In fact, the attributes of professional activities associated with the traditional professions of physician, lawyer, engineer and architect (the high level of knowledge and abilities required to exercise the profession, the function of the service to the client and community, the "craft" nature of the professional activity, the unique character of the relationship between the professional and the client, and professional autonomy) have lost some of their lushness.
Traditionally the acquisition of specialized knowledge through lengthy training constituted the essential element of a profession. But the average training level for workers and the training and apprenticeship requirements in many occupations (eg, airline pilots) have risen considerably as a result of industrial and technological progress and their corollaries (eg, rising educational levels in the population, increased job specialization). The idea of service is no longer exclusive to the traditional professions. Because of technological developments, many specialized service activities have become as difficult to conduct and evaluate, and as weighted with consequences for the eventual clients and for society, as the traditional professional activities.
In the past, the typical professional-client relationship (modelled on the medical profession) was based on confidentiality, client dependence, the total responsibility of the professional, and the unique and specific nature of each professional decision. These elements are no longer a necessary part of most professional activities. The client is often not a person but a business, a group or an institution, and the question of confidentiality occurs in a different context. As well, professionals are now often salaried employees (instead of receiving fees) and are no longer the only people privy to confidential information or involved in decision making.
Finally, the notion of professional autonomy, whereby practitioners work for themselves in private offices (now the case of only 10% of those with professional training), has been shattered by the increasing phenomenon of salaried professionals (eg, engineers, doctors and lawyers) working in great numbers in firms, companies and institutions. There, professionals are specialized staff and technicians more or less subjected to bureaucratic norms and controls. Their authority and professional autonomy is further reduced by their relative submission to the political objectives (in the public sector) or the profit objectives (in the private sector) of their employers. These professionals, whose numbers and central role in organizations have been constantly growing, find themselves torn between their knowledge and skills on the one hand and, on the other, their narrow sphere of activities and their limited freedom. It is therefore not surprising that some groups (doctors, engineers, teachers, nurses) have muted their traditional professional objectives (and with them at least part of the control over their labour) and have formed their own labour unions.
Changes in the Organization of Work
Today, employers are caught up in conditions of rapid technological change, shifting markets and stronger competition that require them to adapt rapidly to changes in products and services. They need closer links with their employees. To established them, they have looked to new forms of work organization to humanize the working environment and to give workers greater level of participation in management. Some of these new forms, centred on workers' tasks, include Quality of Working Life programs designed to satisfy workers' desire for greater autonomy, responsibility, creativity and conviviality. This is done through such techniques as job enlargement, job enrichment, job rotation, autonomous work teams and quality-control circles.
Other measures to improve working conditions and environment include the elimination of time clocks, the introduction of flex-time and compressed work weeks, telecommuting (work at home) and the design of programs (such as suggestion programs, various joint consultative committees on issues such as productivity, welfare, health and job safety) to increase workers' participation and interest in their work. Profit-sharing, share ownership plans and other forms of financial participation have also been instituted. The goal of all these efforts is to increase workers' productivity through greater work motivation and identification with the company. These new work and organization designs have been widely adopted in the last 20 years or so but their efficiency for companies and their real advantages for workers have not been clearly proven yet. Essentially, the wage-earning system remains unchanged.
Finally new forms of employment have developed in which the position of workers is generally precarious, eg, part-time, freelance or contract work, temporary work and job sharing. Between 1975 and 1993, part-time jobs increased by 120% compared with an increase only of 25% for full-time jobs. One in 4 workers is a part-timer and the proportion is growing. One in 12 workers is hired in temporary or contract jobs. These kinds of employment take advantage of the conditions or needs of certain categories of workers (eg, working mothers, students, handicapped and older workers) to meet the needs of business (to lower labour costs and add more production flexibility) and of governments (to reduce the costs of unemployment by spreading available employment over more workers).
The present preoccupation with working conditions marks a change in perspective towards various aspects of work; eg, organization of work, interpersonal relations, and health and safety. There is less attention to the purely functional concept of work and more recognition that the quality of a wage earner's working life affects off-the-job quality of life as well.
Youth and Work
Between 1953 and 1984, the number of young people (under 25 years) in the labour force grew from 1.3 million to 2.8 million, but by 1987 it had declined to 2.3 million. In hard economic times, because of their inexperience and lack of seniority and training, they are usually the first to be laid off. Thus they have a disproportionately high UNEMPLOYMENT rate (17.7% in 1993 or 50% higher than the average). They also have the highest rate of job mobility, though it is often involuntary. Those who voluntarily change jobs (the best educated, the unmarried or the young married without children) usually do so to acquire more experience. But for many, job changes are an expression of their unhappiness with modern work - both its intrinsic aspects and its material conditions.
Children of a more liberal society, younger people in general tend to challenge traditional forms of authority in the workplace. Better educated than their elders and accustomed to a higher standard of living, they seek more demanding and more enriching work which will use the capabilities developed by their education. However, recent economic conditions have made it increasingly more difficult to satisfy these aspirations.
Work, Education and Training
Not so long ago, the (usually limited) training received at school would see people through their professional careers. They entered the work force young, having undergone an apprenticeship which often began in the family and continued on the job. Today, given the economic and social demand for general and diversified education and the need for skilled labour, a diploma is essential. Young people are entering the labour force at a later age all the time.
During the prosperous 1950s and 1960s, a diploma was the passport to the more interesting jobs. Since 1970, and especially in periods of economic transformation and crisis, the diploma no longer guarantees a job in a given occupational category. Educational level is often used as a means for stricter selection and as a guarantee of the individuals' ability to adapt to the needs of the organization. Young people now enter the labour force under difficult conditions, and many of them must make do with occasional and part-time work for more or less extended periods.
For instance in recent years, 40% of part-time job holders were young workers aged 15 to 24 years. Moreover, their prior training offers less assurance of career advancement. There is a growing educational and occupational mismatch between job losses and new employment opportunities. Technological progress, office reorganization, the shift toward employment in the tertiary sector, unemployment or its threat, the possibility and attraction of job mobility, and the search for a higher standard of living are all incentives leading adults in ever-greater numbers to seek additional education and training at some stage in their working life.
While this training can be found in educational institutions, employers (especially the largest ones) are also offering professional training to increase the productivity of their work force. These courses are usually short, focus on a particular task or function and deal with immediate needs. They are largely controlled by the corporation, and usually more readily available to managers and administrative and professional staff than to unskilled labourers.
Women and Work
The rising number of women in the labour force is one of the most important changes in the world of work. While the proportion of women in the labour force stood at 20% in 1921 and only 24% as recently as 1951, it reached a high of 59% in 1990. This rapid growth is mainly due to the greater number of working wives (11% in 1951; 53% in 1987).
The growing number of working women should have a profound long-term effect on the nature and organization of work itself, but so far the repercussions are limited and the structure of female jobs has changed little. Women are usually found in traditionally "female" occupations (eg, office work, sales, teaching, hospital services and light industry). Those who venture into traditionally male strongholds still suffer discrimination. Working conditions in female jobs are usually characterized by longer work hours, unusual shifts, lack of job security and systematic pay and benefits discrimination in those jobs (which comprise the majority) not covered by collective agreements. Although they are usually better educated than men, women generally hold junior positions and dead-end jobs (see WOMEN AND EDUCATION; WOMEN IN THE LABOUR FORCE).
The Explosion in Part-time Work
As of 1998, approximately 2.7 million people held part-time jobs, an increase of 24.4% in 10 years. In comparison, the number of full-time workers increased only 8% to just over 11.8 million people. Adult women and young people were more likely than adult men to work part time. Approximately 30% of women, 23% of youths, and 44% of men who worked part time did so involuntarily and preferred full-time work.
Various legislative measures (eg, against job discrimination, in favour of maternity leave), passed because of pressure from the women's movement and from trade unions, have improved conditions for women who already work and are an incentive for more women to seek salaried employment. Nevertheless, major improvements are still needed, especially in the elimination of wage discrimination. The idea of women working outside the home is better accepted today, but traditional attitudes have not entirely disappeared.
Work and Retirement
With the sharp rise in life expectancy, more attention is being paid to the relationship between work and the quality of life in retirement years. The nature and conditions of work and its level of remuneration have a determining influence not only on workers' standard of living after retirement (especially on their income) but also on their physical and mental health. These preoccupations have intensified in the last 20 years because of the strong trend toward earlier retirement. Between 1983 and 1993, the number of people aged 55 to 64 who left the labour force jumped 114%. The average age at retirement stands now at around 62. Although there is no set mandatory age of retirement either by federal or provincial legislation, the common practice for workers is to retire at age 65 either as stipulated in a collective agreement or in a condition of employment.
Several factors account for this trend; eg, the desire for a more active life after work (more leisure and travel) and for more time with the family, the general rise in incomes that allows more people to retire before age 65, and universal public and voluntary private PENSION plans. Moreover, the employment crisis created by growing competition in the labour market, downsizing and the effects of technological change act against employing older workers. For some, lowering the retirement age has become an efficient way of reducing the labour force. For others, it is a means to help younger people to get a job or to protect the one that they already have. Governments and business enterprises have introduced early-retirement incentive programs, the former to fight unemployment and underemployment, and the latter to reduce the size and cost of their work force.
Yet for both economic and social reasons, a counter trend has recently developed against mandatory retirement. Although there has been an important reduction in the poverty rate for elderly families (from 40% to 9%) and for elderly single people (from about 70% to less than 50%) since the 1970s, social-security measures have failed to ensure most workers and their dependants of a satisfactory level of material security. A large number of retired people in Canada still need a guaranteed income supplement to stay above the POVERTY line. Moreover, higher life-expectancy and the rapid AGING of the population with the coming retirement of the first baby-boomers raises the spectre of drying pension funds. From the social point of view, a significant number of retired workers experience isolation, marginalization and insecurity. The abolition of compulsory retirement by the provinces of Manitoba, New Brunswick and Québec allows people to choose the time of retirement that better meets their needs, circumstances, and hopes.
Work and Technology
The application of information technologies based on microelectronics in communications (ie, the switching and transmission of information) in business through word-processing machines and in manufacturing through automation and robotics has amounted to a third technological revolution (see COMPUTER COMMUNICATIONS; COMPUTERS AND SOCIETY; OFFICE AUTOMATION). Will it have the same results that the previous 2 revolutions (the factory system and mechanical production and mass production with the assembly line) have achieved: economic growth, job creation and higher standard of living?
The productivity gains being realized have had (and are still having) a considerable impact on the level and structure of employment: a significant reduction of the labour force in manufacturing and in clerical and low-ranking specialized jobs in the tertiary sector. The latter is the most important sector in modern economies (accounting for more than 60% of Canada's labour force) and the most affected by these changes. These losses will likely be only partially compensated by the creation of new specialized and professional jobs in the industries producing and using the new technologies.
Although the occupational structure in place since the turn of the 20th century has undergone profound changes, it is very unlikely that Canada, as suggested by some, will be left with only 2 kinds of workers; ie, those who create the programs and technologies to do the work and those who push the buttons. It is more likely that workers in traditional trades and machine operators will be at least partly replaced by technicians and workers specialized in maintenance, tooling, information technologies and electronics. The move to an information age could therefore lead to greater uniformity of skills (see INFORMATION SOCIETY).
The content and organization of work will also be affected. In the past, technological progress had contradictory effects: reduced physical labour and increased salaries versus highly specialized and fragmented jobs and increased work pace and controls. Today's changes will also have contradictory effects which may well accentuate trends from the past. The new technologies will make it possible to eliminate many repetitive, dangerous manual jobs and to create new jobs connected with the control, supervision and maintenance of automated equipment requiring mental skill rather than physical abilities. They may also increase the repetitive and meaningless nature of some tasks which until now could not be simplified and downgraded.
It is also possible that there will be tighter controls over workers (electronic monitoring) and a faster work pace, increasing feelings of isolation on the job because of reduced social interaction, and new health and safety problems (eg, stress-producing conditions resulting in mental strain, exhaustion and burnout, and physical ills from radiation exposure). Finally, the new technologies could lead to the development of work teams, to job decentralization into smaller work units, work at a distance (eg, telecommuting or working at home), increased use of contract workers, and more flexible and shorter hours.
Future of Work
Work is both an instrumental activity (it provides economic independence and social status) and a liberating, creative activity through which individuals may shape and express their own identities. In Canadian society today, work for most people is largely if not entirely instrumental. Can it also become a free and creative activity, an opportunity for self-development?
Much of the future of work in societies like Canada depends on the impact of the industrial restructuring which has been going on for more than a decade. These changes include the closure and/or the relocation in other geographical areas of dominant manufacturing industries such as steel, textile, chemicals and electrical appliances ("de-industrialization") which have lost their competitivity or their capacity to adapt to changing market demands. Restructuring is also associated with the development of flexible production systems in which all dimensions of production are interrelated and coordinated by computers. This makes possible much smaller production runs and much greater adaptation in design and product lines to market trends and consumer preferences. Product quality is also greatly enhanced. For some, flexible specialization marks a revival of craft production (increased training on the job and upskilling). For others, it is leading to deteriorating working conditions. Finally, restructuring involves a shift from relatively well-paid full-time jobs in manufacturing to a service-based economy in which the majority of the new service jobs could require little or no post-secondary education and training.
So far, its overall results have been rather negative on the quality of working life: higher rates of unemployment and underemployment, growth in part-time and temporary work, less job security and diminishing employment rights and protection following "deregulation." All this could create an increasing polarization between a large number of women and youth in part-time and precarious low skill, dead-end and unstable service jobs and of middle-age blue-collar workers laid off from relatively well-paying manufacturing jobs, and a privileged group of professionals, managers and other "knowledge workers" in modernized corporations.
The final outcome of the current transformations depends on the way workers' aspirations for secure employment, better quality of working life and industrial democracy are accommodated by the micro-electronic revolution and the industrial restructuring process.
However, we might be facing a more radical transformation altogether. Many believe that we have entered a period that will lead to the end of work. The market economy has reached a point where it can no longer provide paid work for a growing number of people who will be more or less permanently excluded from the labour market. As a result, there will be an accentuation of economic and social inequalities and a greater polarization of society with dire consequences for the maintenance of social order and the survival of democratic societies. Some see the solution to this problem in the revaluation of social needs, the establishment of a more balanced relation between social needs and economic needs which have largely dominated in the past, and the development of a social economy founded upon a different set of principles from those of the market economy which have governed modern society so far. Among other things, this could lead to a more equitable redistribution of paid work, a reduction in work time and more liberated time devoted to personal and social activities.
See also WORKING-CLASS HISTORY.
Author CAMILLE LEGENDRE
David Ashton and Graham Lowe, Making Their Way: Education, Training and the Labour Market in Canada and Britain (1991); Heather Clemson, "Unionization and Women in the Service Sector," Perspectives on Labour and Income, (Autumn 1989); Ann Duffy, Part-time Paradox: Connecting Gender, Work and Family (1992); Graham Lowe, "Computers in the Workplace," Perspectives on Labour and Income (Summer 1991); and Women in the Administrative Revolution: The Feminization of Clerical Work (1987); Graham S. Lowe and Harvey Krahn, Work, Industry and Canadian society (1993), and, eds, Work in Canada: Readings in the Sociology of Work and Industry (1993); Lynn MacDonald and Richard Wanner, Retirement in Canada (1990); Shoshona Zuboff, In the Age of the Smart Machine: The Future of Work and Power (1988).
Links to Other Sites
International Labour Organization
The International Labour Organization is the UN specialized agency which seeks the promotion of social justice and internationally recognized human and labour rights.
PASSAGES TO CANADA
Immigrants to Canada from around the world have encountered many hardships, opportunities, and successes as they set out to establish a better life for themselves and their families in their adopted country. Listen to some of their personal stories at the "Passages to Canada" website. From the Historica-Dominion Institute.
Explore this extensive collection of historical photographs depicting people at work in Canada and elsewhere. Part of the CN Images of Canada Gallery at the Canada Science and Technology Museum website.
On the Job
Canadians have worked in very diverse work-spaces throughout the 20th century. This photographic exhibition gives the viewer a closer look at these spaces and, more importantly, offers a perspective on the ordinary people who work within them. These people were not selected because of their fame or name, but for the ways in which they are representative of Canada and its economy, whether they are at work outdoors, underground, in a factory or in the home.
The Labour/Le Travail website offers bilingual abstracts of articles concerning labour issues in Canada. Also links to many websites about labour issues. From the Canadian Committee on Labour History.
Sheet Music From Canada's Past: At Work
Scroll down the page to view a selection of finely illustrated covers of sheet music published in Canada prior to 1921 (click on the images for larger views). Check the menu on the left for links to audio clips and additional information about Library and Archives Canada's collection of sheet music.