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Sault Ste. Marie, Labour and the Social Economy: A Case Study. David Thompson B.A., M.B.A. (candidate) June 2010. Background. Sault Ste. Marie & District Labour Council “Voice of Organized Labour” To celebrate the contribution of organized labour. Research Questions.

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Sault Ste. Marie, Labour and the Social Economy: A Case Study

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Sault Ste. Marie, Labourand the Social Economy: A Case Study

David Thompson B.A., M.B.A. (candidate)

June 2010


  • Sault Ste. Marie & District Labour Council

    • “Voice of Organized Labour”

  • To celebrate the contribution of organized labour

Research Questions

What is the nature and extent of trade unions’ contribution to the social economy in Sault Ste. Marie?

Were these efforts expended to meet community needs, or have they been instrumental in changing the lives of trade unionists and transforming the community?

Did the movement leaders have a vision for transformation, or were they simply responding to trade union members’ directions?



Loxley (2007); Kumar (2008); Quarter, Mook, and Armstrong (2009); Cranford & Ladd (2003)

  • CED & social economy

    • gap filling or transformation?

  • Union membership

    • stagnant – decline in industrial sectors

  • Labour and social economy

    • Mutual associations of common bonds that work together to achieve common goals

  • Community / social unionism

    • Capacity building and empowerment

Research findings: themes

Democratic decision-making & advocacy

Building social assets

Skills development

Building community capacity

Creation of equity and debt capital for community investment

Democratic decision-making and advocacy

Building social assets

Opened in 1963

Founded by Locals 2251, 4509, and 5595.

Convinced 5,000 members to construct the Centre - raising $675,000

Extended services to the greater community

Skills development

  • Training in period of restructuring

    • Worked with public/private sector to develop retraining program

  • Spillover to community

    • Members brought skills out to the community

  • Empowerment and leadership

Skills development - spillover

  • “The fact that they’re capable of sitting on boards is due in large part to the training that the union has provided to them.”

Desjardins (2009)

Building community capacity

  • Partnership with United Way of SSM to reduce & eliminate poverty

  • Formed Algoma Community Legal Clinic

    • Free law services to people with low incomes

  • Community Services Committee

    • Respond to community needs; fundraising; and build the capacity of community organizations

Creating equity & debt capital for community investment

Northern Credit Union Groundbreaking

Credit unions

Two credit unions created by labour

Model brought from Quebec in the 1950s

Expanded to serve Northern Ontario

Creating equity & debt capital for community investment

Worker ownership

Largest worker buyout in North America

7,500 workers forfeited wages and security to maintain their future

“…where there’s a need, the union comes forth and makes sure that need is fulfilled…I think that as long as there is a union, as long as we survive, we will ensure that we meet the needs that we see out there, whether it is a Hospice, Group Health Center, or Community Credit Union” (Pettalia, 2009)


  • Addressing community needs is priority

  • Strategies on multiple scales with community partners to assess needs

  • Education and leaders are necessary for success of current and future projects

    • Aging leadership; education is needed for the next generation.

  • Transformation through education, action, and critical analysis.

“There is just so much more that needs to be accomplished, and I, I really want to be a part of making this community a better place, whether it’s through the Group Health Centre or just by being a citizen that’s there, ready to

volunteer when needed. My life took a turn somewhere, and it’s because of my experience with the Steelworkers and my education along the way” (Tom Bonnell, 2009).

Thank You

[email protected]

NORDIK Institute

Sault Ste. Marie, ON

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