Labour Studies Index

Updated: 2022-05-16

Cross-Movement Coalitions and Political Agency: The Popular Sector and the Pro-Canada/Action Canada Network

Document type Thesis
Author Bleyer, Peter
Degree Ph.D., Political Science
Publisher London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE); London, UK
Date 2001
Pages 369 pages


Through a historical account of the Pro-Canada/Action Canada Network (PCN/ACN), this dissertation examines coalition formation among social movements. It argues that the complex process of cross-sectoral coalition formation and thus the potential for convergence of social movements can best be understood by combining elements of different analytical frameworks. This dissertation draws on elements of the two dominant paradigms for the study of social movements, resource mobilization theory and new social movement theory. Specifically, it utilizes the formers' attention to the specifics of organization and structure and the latter's focus on the discursive formation of identities. Both are then combined with the uniquely Canadian but theoretically underdeveloped concept of the popular sector and a neo-gramscian perspective on social formation and mobilization that draws on political economy and class-analytical traditions. With its formation in 1988 around opposition to the Canada - U.S. Free Trade Agreement, the PCN/ACN was an early example of a broader trend for trade and investment to become key arenas for social and political contention at the turn of the century. This dissertation challenges the assumptions of most analytical frameworks concerning the limits to coalition formation and argues that the nature of the unifying issue is an important determinant of the potential for the growth and deepening of social alliances. After reviewing the historical conjuncture in which the PCN/ACN emerged, this dissertation traces the history of key sectors and member organizations - labour, women and ecumenical justice - paying specific attention to their approach to political engagement and the issue of free trade. As a result, it establishes the necessary background to understand both the initial basis for unity and the Network's progression beyond a lowest common denominator alliance around a single issue, to a broader mandate. This dissertation provides empirical evidence on which to judge the potential of social movements to displace other discourses and agencies on the left. Given the contemporary interest in the role of social movements, NGOs and civil society, this dissertation provides some essential signposts for two types of practitioners: academics seeking to understand outcomes and activists hoping to determine them.