Labour Studies Index

Updated: 2022-05-16

Populist Unionism Confronts Austerity in Canada

Document type Article
Author Tufts, Steven
Author Thomas, Mark P.
Journal Labor Studies Journal
Volume 39
Date 2014 03 1
ISSN 0160-449X
Pages 60-82


The 2008 financial crisis continues to have profound implications for workers worldwide, as governments have embarked on “austerity” programs and employers have confronted organized labor with concessionary demands, placing unions on the defensive. At the same time, populist movements have arisen across North America and Europe as increasing numbers of people grow disenchanted with government action and corporate incompetence. We examine the interplay among what we characterize as “uneven austerity,” union strategic capacities, and rising populism. At the intersection of these processes, we see elements of “populist unionism” as the labor movement confronts both austerity and declining union power. The article develops this concept through an examination of organized labor’s engagement with the Occupy movement in Toronto, Ontario, and the growth of the Christian Labour Association of Canada.