Labour Studies Index

Updated: 2022-05-16

Teacher Unions in the Public Sphere: Strategies Intended to Influence Public Opinion

Document type Thesis
Author Maharaj, Sachin
Degree Ph.D., Leadership, Higher and Adult Education
Publisher University of Toronto; Toronto
Date 2019
Pages 180 pages


This study explores how teacher unions in British Columbia and Ontario attempted to influence public opinion during periods of labour conflict between 2001 and 2016. A comparative case analysis was conducted based on eight interviews with members of the British Columbia Teachers Federation, six interviews with members of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, as well as documents from each union. In addition, newspaper items published in each province during the conflict period were collected. The unions’ efforts were analyzed through the framework of Habermas’ concepts of the public sphere and validity claims. Findings indicate that both unions had active public relations strategies designed to influence media coverage and discourse in the public sphere. However, most of their efforts were focused on influencing the public sphere indirectly, by using tactics that are not traditionally considered part of public relations strategies. While the unions’ efforts were similar in nature, the impact that these efforts had on influencing public opinion and producing policy change varied substantially. I argue that a combination of historical and political differences, mediated through a validity claims framework, helps explain this variation.