Friday, December 28, 2007

A Reader's Notebook

The current issue of Labour/Le Travail No. 60 (Fall 2007) reports that this excellent publication, published twice-yearly, will soon have all its back issues online and searchable. It began publishing, as Labour/Le travailleur, in 1978. The current publisher, Athabasca University, will establish a one-year firewall, limiting online access of the two most recent issues to subscribers.

However, the Canadian Periodical Index,, currently publishes the full contents (minus book reviews) of the two most recent issues, as well as selected articles and book reviews from past issues going back a dozen years or so.

In addition, past issues since 2001 are available for free online on the History Coop,

The focus of many articles is often more “micro” than “macro” — reflecting the tendency of graduate students to focus their dissertations on discrete periods and particular experiences and organizations in the distant past, rather than tackling the “big picture” canvasses of the struggles and politics of the working class as a whole. But there are many other features of the publication that make Labour/Le Travail a valuable source for any serious socialist in Canada, and of interest to many elsewhere who are eager to learn from the history of the workers movement in a country with a relatively developed class structure and some major internal national questions.

One of the most useful features is the book review section, which usually covers a couple of dozen or so books on labour or the left, broadly defined, published in recent years.

The current issue features, among others, articles on the Victoria general strike of 1919 (inspired by the upsurge in Winnipeg, but much less known); two articles on childhood experiences in the Ukrainian-Canadian working class and left in depression-era Canada; and an article on “Transforming Worker Representation: The Magna Model in Canada and Mexico”, a timely piece that indicates many of the implications of the recent “Framework of Fairness Agrement” signed between Magna and the Canadian Auto Workers union.

Of particular interest to me is an outstanding “Research Note” by Larry Savage on “Organized Labour and Constitutional Reform Under Mulroney”. It is a fascinating account of how the Canadian and Quebec labour movement (actually two distinct labour movements, each with their own dynamic) developed policy in relation to the Quebec national question, the issue that dominated Canadian politics in the 1980s and 1990s. The article can be found on-line at or, and because it is rather lengthy I won’t reproduce it here.

The article provides many insights into the dynamics of the relationship between organized labour and the NDP, showing how the conflicting pressures each was under produced contrasting policies on a major issue. The labour movement, and in particular the Canadian Labour Congress, was torn between the increasingly pro-sovereignty positions of its Quebec affiliate, the FTQ, and the indifference or open hostility toward Quebec’s national demands in the labour movement in English Canada. The CLC eventually opted for a position that allowed the FTQ complete autonomy, in a relationship that is the labour movement’s equivalent of the “sovereignty/association” formula favoured by the sovereigntist Parti québécois. The NDP, in contrast, largely because it is much more enmeshed in the mechanisms of state power through its Parliamentary caucus and provincial governments, took the opposite course and hardened its opposition to Quebec self-determination.

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