Labour Studies Index

Updated: 2022-05-16

Towards Transformative Solidarities: Wars of Position in the Making of Labour Internationalism in Canada

Document type Thesis
Author Nastovski, Katherine Slavka
Degree Ph.D., Social and Political Thought
Publisher York University; Toronto
Date 2016-09
Pages 379


Within the broad debates about neoliberalism, neoliberal globalization and the declining power of unions in the Global North, there has been renewed interest in the possibilities of international and transnational labour solidarity, coordination and action. Drawing from Rebecca Johns (1998) distinction between transformative and accommodationist forms of international labour solidarity I argue that we need to critically assess how these practices challenge or reinforce global divisions of labour born of the historical development of capitalism. To this end, this study provides an analysis of the dialectical relationship between the dominant practices of labour internationalism that emerged within the organized labour movement in Canada during the Cold War. I examine both the challenges to and possibilities for building transformative forms of international labour solidarity today. Challenges include the philosophies of social partnership, racism, white supremacy and nationalism that informed the labour imperialism and accommodationist solidarities of the institutionalized internationalism in this period. I argue that the brand of social democratic anti-communism that characterized this institutionalized labour internationalism was shaped by the wars of position over worker justice happening on the national level and internationally between unions, but also by ideas of race and nation. I outline the lessons from these practices by focusing on four cases: Kenya, Southeast Asia, The Caribbean and Palestine. Finally, I assess the grassroots labour solidarity that re-emerged inside the labour movement with the rise of the New Left. I argue that the model of international solidarity they built, called worker-to-worker, arose from the goals and strategies of class struggle unionism and constitutes an example of transformative solidarity that can inform discussions about organizing international soldiarity today. Rooted in anti-racist Marxist feminist theory, my historical sociological analysis draws from both archival research and interviews with union leaders, activists and staff. I make sense of the solidarities that determined these practices by exploring the terrain of class consciousness in which they were formed. Situating my analysis within the social and political contours of class formation in Canada and internationally, I pay particular attention to how these practices of labour internationalism intersect with issues of race, gender, nation and class struggle, and how racialized and gendered class formation in Canada has influenced ideas of worker justice and responses to imperialism, colonialism and national borders.