Labour’s fate and revival in the US and Canada

This week, two labour historians talk about their new books on Canadian and US workers’ movements in the 20th century, books which offer important and practical lessons for unions today.

First up, I speak with Barry Eidlin, Assistant Professor of Sociology at McGill University, about his just-published book, Labor and the Class Idea in the United States and Canada. The book seeks to explain the divergence between the Canadian and US labour movements since the 1960s and we discuss everything from the recent Janus decision to how the US labour law regime obscures the fundamental power imbalances in the workplace to how Canadian unions still need internal revival despite their (somewhat) better position.

Next, I talk with Christo Aivalis, Postdoctoral Fellow in History at the University of Toronto, about his book, The Constant Liberal: Pierre Elliot Trudeau, Organized Labour and the Canadian Social Democratic Left. The title speaks for itself but the relationship between Trudeau and labour foreshadows how neoliberalism would be implemented in Canada in later decades and holds lessons for how labour should orient politically as well as fight Trudeau the younger today.

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The political aspects of the minimum wage

Discussion of the minimum wage can easily slide into a technocratic back-and-forth that ignores the vital political aspect at play. We can see this in much of the response to the report just released by the Ontario government’s Minimum Wage Advisory Panel (MWAP). Andrew Coyne, for example, once again argues that a basic income is a better solution to poverty than increases in the minimum wage. The question, however, should not be one of which single tool is best for fighting poverty, but how we can build the most effective toolkit, one that also puts political power into the hands of the poor. Poverty is multi-faceted and, while low-wage work is only one potential aspect of being poor, the minimum wage has effects beyond providing much-needed higher incomes. (more…)

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