The country's biggest union for private-sector workers, Unifor, was created this past weekend from a merger between the Canadian Auto Workers and the Communication, Energy and Paperworkers unions.
National president Jerry Dias called a Labour Day march through the streets of Toronto a symbolic start for the group as it launches an ambitious campaign to draw members from precarious and traditionally non-union jobs. "Today is really about opportunity, it's about hope. It's about us saying 'we've had it' and it's about us saying 'we're determined to change the direction of the country,' " Mr. Dias said.
Union membership has declined in Canada in recent years, though it saw a slight uptick to 31.5 per cent in 2012, according to Statistics Canada. The public sector makes up the vast majority of union employees.
Mr. Dias, a lifelong union member who was endorsed by the former heads of the CAW and CEP, was elected Saturday with about 87 per cent support at Unifor's founding convention in Toronto. Unifor currently represents some 300,000 workers.
NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair, who was among a small contingent of New Democrat marchers, said Unifor will help solidify the base of the Canadian labour movement at a time when middle-class jobs are under attack.
"We've seen a stabilization in the labour movement after several years of decrease. Stephen Harper is encouraging a lot of people to get back involved in the labour movement," Mr. Mulcair said.
"The Conservative party has been pushing down wages and working conditions for women and men across the country" through the expansion of the temporary foreign workers program, while manufacturing job losses are also taking a toll, he said.
Union members flooded the streets of Toronto in a spirited Labour Day celebration emboldened by the birth of the country's biggest union for private-sector workers.
Marcher Paul Dolgov, an actor, said joining a union has provided him with valuable protection on the job.
"The union provides us with a fair working environment. We get nice wages... basically it's one of the best places to work and we are protected."