Thinking Union: Activism and Education in Canada's Labour Movement


161 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Bibliography
ISBN 0-921284-96-9
DDC 331.88'0971





Reviewed by Rebecca Murdock

Rebecca Murdock is a lawyer with the Toronto firm Ryder Wright Blair &
Doyle, Barristers and Solicitors.


Martin’s text is a captivating blend of personal narrative and labor
philosophy. He begins with his 1978 initiation into the labor movement
and a job interview with Gérard Docquier, then National Director of the
United Steel Workers of America (Canada). In examining Martin’s
record, Docquier remarks, “We know you academics. You stay with a
union a couple of years, put that experience on your résumé and then
move to a government policy job.” At the close of Thinking Union,
Martin (Ed.D., University of Toronto) has demonstrated his staying power
with almost two decades as a union educator to his credit. He currently
works with the newly amalgamated Communications, Energy and Paperworkers

Thinking Union is best characterized as a professional autobiography
spanning the years 1978–95. Poised between diplomacy and
forthrightness, Martin is most compelling at two junctures: when
describing how he made the fateful choice to back Dave Patterson in the
Steelworkers’ 1985 national election (i.e., the “Civil War”
chapter), and in the anecdotes about the moments of harmony and discord
he experienced with the rank and file during educational workshops. It
is obvious throughout the book that his first love and talent is for
teaching—not for union politics.

Whether Martin is discussing the “ten dynamics” of union culture, a
particular educational program, or his own reflections on being an
advocate of “radical democracy,” Thinking Union rings with a clarity
of purpose. As he points out, trade unions and stories about trade
unions were outlawed at the early part of this century as “criminal
conspiracy in restraint of trade.” Although our laws have changed,
Martin observes that “part of the reason that the wider public knows
so little about unions is that so little of the internal wisdom is
written down.” Straightforward and entertaining, Thinking Union
responds to that deficit. Through the wizened eye of an experienced
union educator, Martin offers readers a glimpse into the highly charged
inner sanctum of the Canadian labor movement—a compelling story of
politics and personal conviction.


Martin, D'Arcy., “Thinking Union: Activism and Education in Canada's Labour Movement,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 23, 2024,