Cette étude vérifie la perception que les Canadiens se font du syndicalisme depuis la Deuxième Guerre mondiale grâce à l'analyse d'un très grand nombre de sondages effectués par plusieurs firmes. Les sondages de Gallup Canada se sont révélés particulièrement riches d'informations car cette firme interroge les Canadiens depuis 1941 et répète certaines questions depuis plusieurs décennies. Cette continuité permet de retrouver les grandes tendances de l'opinion publique au Canada.
This study explores the attitudes held by Canadians towards unions since the second world war through the analysis of public opinion surveys. The findings of many different firms were reviewed with Gallup surveys proving especially valuable because of the frequency with which certain questions were repeated. This kind of continuity made it possible to ascertain the evolution of public opinion over time.
The research showed that, at least in principle, Canadians accept the legitimacy and necessity of unionism. Unions are perceived as an indispensable institution for the protection of employees and the great majority of Canadians also recognize that the right to strike is a necessary weapon in pursuit of union goals.
After assessing patterns of public opinion and identifying sources of union support and opposition, the study analyzed in greater detall a question asked more than twenty times between 1941 and 1989 — were unions «a good or bad thing». A number of variables were used in this analysis including: region, union membership, occupation, age, gender, and level of education. It was found that attitudes towards unions were more favourable in the Maritimes, Quebec, and British Columbia and less favourable in Ontario and in the Prairies. Union membership and occupation also influenced opinions about unionism. On the other hand, age and gender had little effect on union perceptions and level of education had no effect at all.
The strong popular support enjoyed by unions between 1940 and 1950 weakened in the following decades. After declining to its lowest level in the middle 1970s, union popularity rebounded significantly in the following years. The ebb and flow of union popularity appear to be connected to public perceptions of the power of unions, perceptions which themselves appear to be a function of strike activity. The increase in work stoppages during the 1960s and 1970s, particularly in the public sector, reinforced the image of powerful unions abusing their power. Conversely, the decline in strike activity during the past several years has translated into increased union popularity.
Similar patterns in public opinion have been observed in Great Britain and the United States. The study suggests that variations in public opinion towards unions in these countries can be explained by the volume of strike activity and union density.