Labour Studies Index

Updated: 2022-05-16

A New Scale of Activism: Canadian Unions and the North American Free Trade Agreement, 1992–1999

Document type Article
Author Hamelin, Spencer
Journal Labour / Le Travail
Volume 80
Date 2017 Fall
ISSN 1911-4842
Pages 157-184


This article focuses on the campaigns of national Canadian unions and other labour organizations against the North American Free Trade Agreement (nafta). Changes in the strategic orientation of these unions and labour organizations are traced from the period following the Canada–United States Free Trade Agreement and contextualized in post–Cold War trends in North American labour more broadly. These developments are viewed through the lens of scale shift and political process models of social movement theory. Though some transnational links were developed before nafta was implemented, these linkages were expanded following the agreement's passage. Additionally, these organizations took advantage of political opportunities originating from the new structures of nafta itself. Canadian unions and associated anti-free-trade coalitions worked alongside their regional counterparts to construct alternatives to neoliberalism and build consensus. Following the failure of domestic political opportunities to prevent the passage of nafta, some Canadian unions and labour organizations used emerging international political opportunities to deepen collaborations with their counterparts in countries experiencing trade liberalization.