Labour Studies Index

Updated: 2022-05-16

The geography of skill: Mobility and exclusionary unionism in Canada’s north

Document type Article
Author Mills, Suzanne
Journal Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space
Volume 51
Date 2019
ISSN 0308-518X
Pages 724-742


This paper explores the spatial politics of racism and inter-worker competition through a case study of Indigenous employment during the construction of the Voisey’s Bay mine in northern Labrador. Over the course of construction, the building and construction trades unions (BCTUs) sought to restrict the hiring of local Inuit and Innu workers by challenging the legitimacy of place-based entitlements to work. Inuit and Innu workers had preferential access to employment as a result of unresolved land claims and the ensuing Impact and Benefit Agreements (IBA) between the Voisey’s Bay Nickel Company and both the Innu Nation and the Labrador Inuit Association. IBA provisions that local Inuit and Innu be hired preferentially ran counter to the unions’ organizational structures and cultures, which privileged worker mobility and skill. The BCTUs used the geographic incompatibility between the scale of Indigenous claims and that of construction worker organization to justify a competitive approach to unionism and to veil racist portrayals of Innu and Inuit workers. By drawing out the relation between skill, racism and beliefs about entitlements to work, this paper explores how workers selectively use place-based and mobile identities to participate in inter-worker competition, reifying colonial patterns of labour mobility and labour market segmentation.