Do unions still matter in the 21st century? That was the question lobbed at a group of experts Tuesday night at CBC Hamilton's Labour pains town hall.

The almost two-hour long debate was contenious, with both sides weighing in passionately. You can watch the entire town hall replay in the player at the top of this story. The debate was also carried out onlines as people chimed in via a live chat from Hamilton, Windsor, Ottawa, Sudbury and Thunder Bay. You can review the live chat discussion below.

"The onslaught against unions is very strong," said Lisa Hammond, the president of the Hamilton-Wentworth Teacher local of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO).

Alongside Hammond, our panelists included:

  • John Mortimer, President of the non-profit Canadian LabourWatch Association. Its mandate is to help employees make informed choices about unionization and be able to access Labour Board processes and forms when they do not wish to become or remain unionized.
  • Wayne Lewchuk, a professor in the School of Labour Studies and Department of Economics at McMaster University. Lewchuk holds a BA and MA in economics from the University of Toronto, and a Ph.D in economics from the University of Cambridge.
  • Pablo Godoy, a national representative for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) - which at around 245,000 members is one of the largest in Canada.

Tuesday night's conversation covered a lot of ground. Here are just a few memorable quotes from our panelists and members of the audience:

"The only thing that guarantees me gender equality in my workplace is my collective agreement," –Lisa Hammond

"Why is it we should be angry at someone for making only a livable wage?" –Pablo Godoy on anger towards unions

"Canadians don't think you're relevant. Take it to heart, and change your focus." –John Mortimer on unions

"Unions are needed more now to keep the government honest." –Jake Lombardo, USW Local 1005, audience member

"The last couple of decades have been tough for unions — but it has been tough for the economy as well." –Wayne Lewchuk

"Stop talking about creating the weekend." –John Mortimer, on what unions have accomplished

"As a union leader, I haven't eaten anybody's young recently." –Mark Newman, Hamilton Community News, audience member

"Unions will continue to be important until jobs cease to exist." –Pablo Godoy

"It means, potentially, a less equal society." –Wayne Lewchuk on a world without unions