Labour Studies Index

Disorganized labour : Canadian unions and constitutional reform

Document type Thesis
Author Savage, Larry
Degree M.A., Political Science
Publisher Brock University; St. Catharines, Ont.
Date 2001
Pages 248


Constitutional reform dominated the Canadian public policy agenda during the 1980s and early portion of the 1990s. As a pressure group operating within a federal system, the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) has been unable and unwilling to confront the issue of constitutional reform. The CLC's confederal structure, combined with its political relationship with the New Democratic Party (NDP), has prevented the CLC from acting as a progressive force for positive constitutional change. Ideological and philosophical differences between the Quebec Federation of Labour and the NDP convinced the CLC to remove itself from the patriation debate in the early 1980s. Labour's short-sighted non-involvement in the process of patriating the Constitution eliminated the possibility of having collective rights enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Subsequently, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the right to strike and bargain collectively were not constitutionally protected. The Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords provided organized labour with a renewed opportunity to promote a pro-union, class-based, constitutional rights discourse, but the CLC's internal cleavages over language, region, and identity, once again, proved too powerfiil a force to overcome. The Canadian labour movement's vision of social justice and economic equality has been obstructed by its unwillingness to adequately confront divisive constitutional issues. However, in an era of rights discourse and neo-liberalism, constitutional reform may provide organized labour with the best opportunity to have its voice heard.