A series of CFU buttons. The red rising sun button was the new CFU logo designed by President Raj Chouhan and unveiled at the first convention. Raj Chouhan photo. Image CRA0010, Canadian Farmworkers Union Collection, Simon Fraser University Library.


CFU’s short summary of activities for six months in 1982. EPH0465-001, Canadian Farmworkers Union Collection, Simon Fraser University Library.

The exhausting slog and minimal advances eventually wore down the union’s leaders. They left to take other jobs, and the Canadian Farmworkers’ Union began to fade. Yet there was a strong sense its success could not be measured solely in union certifications.

It was clear to organizers that the path forward was via political change. When the NDP formed government in BC in 1991, Moe Sihota — the first South Asian to be elected to federal or provincial office in Canada — became Minister of Labour.  The minimum wage rose to $7 an hour, the highest in the country, and working conditions were enhanced with a new Employment Standards Act.

For the first time, farmworkers, live-in nannies, taxi drivers, artists, security guards, fishermen and newspaper carriers were brought under the legislation.

In 1996, the NDP went further, setting up a hands-on Agricultural Compliance Team (ACT). With representatives from Employment Standards, the WCB, the Motor Vehicle Branch and federal agencies, ACT took a proactive approach to inspections and enforcement, providing the best protection BC farmworkers had ever had. Changes and standards that unions had sought for years were now in place, and labour’s voice was heard at the cabinet table.

Workplace safety, poorly treated farmworkers, child labour laws, abuse of temporary foreign workers—these were all matters pursued by unions away from the bargaining table, often at great expense. This goes to the heart of the labour movement’s existence as agents of social change, beyond issues of dollars and cents.


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Union Zindabad! Copyright © 2022 by BC Labour Heritage Centre is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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