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Ken Lewenza, CAW National President, speaks to a a rally dubbed a "London Day of Action Against Corportate Greed", in London, Ontario, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2012.

Two of Canada's biggest private-sector labour unions are formally exploring the possibility of creating a new, merged organization by the middle of next year in order to better protect their members from the demands being placed on them.

The Canadian Auto Workers and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers, which have a total of about 330,000 members, said Tuesday they have been holding preliminary discussions for weeks.

The unions said they've been galvanized by events like a lockout of employees at a locomotive manufacturing plant in southwestern Ontario. The CAW said management of the Caterpillar-owned Electro-Motive plant in London, Ont., want employees to agree to have their pay cut in half.

"Events like the lockout at Caterpillar have made it increasingly obvious that Canadian workers need a stronger, more active, and more innovative labour movement to defend them," Ken Lewenza, the CAW's national president, said in a statement Tuesday.

"Our movement cannot afford a 'business-as-usual' approach in light of the attacks we face from both business and government. We need to combine our resources, and use them more effectively, if we are to protect Canadian jobs and push for greater equality in this incredibly hostile economic environment."

Dave Coles, president of the CEP, said the goal is to "create a new, Canadian union."

"We are examining every aspect of our work as trade unions, from organizing to bargaining to political activism. We are working to create a stronger union movement and a better future for workers," Mr. Coles said.

The Canadian Auto Workers has been the country's largest private-sector labour union, representing employees in a wide variety of industries from manufacturing to mining to airlines.

The CAW has seen its influence and membership diminished by pressures on Canada's manufacturing sector, particularly in the auto industry where it represents employees at General Motors, Chrysler and Ford among others.

The CEP is also active in numerous industries that are under economic pressure, including forestry and media.

The unions didn't disclose their current membership counts in Tuesday's announcement. A recent statement on the CAW website says it represents 200,000 people across Canada. The CEP's website says it has 130,000 members.

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