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Unions in the Time of Revolutions

Unions in the Time of Revolutions: Government Restructuring in Alberta and Ontario

Yonatan Reshef
Sandra Rastin
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 240
  • Book Info
    Unions in the Time of Revolutions
    Book Description:

    The election of neo-conservative governments in Alberta and Ontario in the early 1990s brought dramatic changes to provincial public policy; both the Ralph Klein Revolution and Mike Harris' Common Sense Revolution emphasized fundamental changes in the role of government, balanced budgets, and the elimination of provincial debts. While public sector unions were forced to react, the response of the Alberta and Ontario unions differed significantly. The reasons, outcome, and long-term impact of the difference is the focus of Yonatan Reshef and Sandra Rastin's careful and revealing analysis.

    The authors' argument concentrates on union responses to the neo-conservative transformation in the two affected provinces, but the scope of the discussion expands to cover such issues as the differences between the two regimes, the damage to the Ontario labour movement dealt by the labour-oriented NDP government, the limits of inter-union cooperation, and the role of modern unions in politics.

    Lively and timely,Unions in the Time of Revolutionplaces Canada's unions in the full context of the neo-conservative trend in provincial politics, and demonstrates the importance of individual union responses in times of such significant change.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8292-4
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xvi)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xvii-2)
  5. CHAPTER ONE Alberta and Ontario: Industrial Relations and Their Contexts
    (pp. 3-16)

    Rich with natural resources, Canadaʹs most populous province, Ontario, is Canadaʹs industrial heartland. It has more than eleven million inhabitants, who have turned this prosperous province into a powerhouse in federal politics. With 103 representatives in the 301-seat federal parliament in Ottawa, Ontario can ensure that national policies reflect its interests. Not surprisingly, the province has been referred to as ʹthe keystone province,ʹ or a ʹregion stateʹ (Dyck 1996; Courchene and Telmer 1998).

    The western province of Alberta is ʹthe home of fabulous wealth, gorgeous mountain scenery, and smoldering Western alienationʹ (Dyck 1996: 495). It is a rich province whose...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Revolutions, Canada-style
    (pp. 17-30)

    During the early 1990s, governments the world over were trying to balance their budgets and eliminate their debts. Canada was no exception. Between 1988 and 1993 every provincial government experienced a growing budget deficit. This reflected the business cycle, falling tax revenues, and increasing social-welfare expenditures, results of the 1990-1 recession. To make matters worse, federal grants to the provinces for social programs were reduced by $6 billion (or 37 per cent) between the 1995-6 and 1997-8 fiscal years (Swimmer 2001: 3). The 1990s also witnessed mounting accumulated debt levels across all provinces, a result of a decade of government...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Collective Action: Conceptual Framework
    (pp. 31-52)

    A strike is probably the best-known form of union collective action. By and large, the strike is a weapon unions use to express their dissatisfaction with employers and protect, or improve, working conditions. In the public sector, a strike can become a political matter if it disrupts a heavily used public service for which there is no alternative. Yet even then, the primary target of the strike is the employer, and its focus is wages and working conditions. In this book, we study a particular variant of collective action, whereby unions apply their organizational might to defy a government as...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Revolutionizing the Civil Service: OPSEU and AUPE
    (pp. 53-85)

    In 1993 union leaders in Alberta promised an aggressive response to the incipient Klein Revolution. Given the enormity of the public-sector unionsʹ collective muscle and deep presence in government, health care, and education, labour militancy was a real prospect. Yet the Alberta unions, including the largest, the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE), never mobilized their members to protest any of the Klein government policies or actions. By contrast in Ontario, in 1996, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) organized the first strike in the annals of the Ontario civil service. At first glance,- OPSEUʹs strike can be seen...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Teachers: Protecting the Profession, Defending the Union Organization
    (pp. 86-132)

    The public education system did not escape the fury of the neo-conservative storm in both Ontario and Alberta. Deep budget cuts were followed by a loss of teachers and support staff, deteriorating working conditions, and a real threat to the quality of education. In both provinces, union leaders considered the use of collective action to protect their membersʹ interests and their own organization against the onslaught of neo-conservatism. Yet whereas the Ontario teachersʹ unions mounted a concerted action to protest the Harris governmentʹs behaviours, their Alberta counterpart remained inert throughout the Klein Revolution.

    Until 1998 the Ontario public education system...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Sins of Commission and Sins of Omission: The Ontario Days of Action and Missed Opportunities in Alberta
    (pp. 133-165)

    Between December 1995 and June 1998 the Ontario union movement organized eleven collective protests called Days of Action (DOA). With the exception of the Metro Toronto Days of Action (MDOA), each event lasted either one day (Friday or Monday) or two days (Friday and Saturday or Sunday and Monday). A typical DOA consisted of workplace shutdowns, marches, and a big rally. The rallies featured several speakers from unions, community groups, and social-justice coalitions, and, sometimes, singers. No comparable collective actions were ever staged in Alberta during the Klein Revolution. Yet the Alberta unions did have two opportunities they could have...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN Sleeping with the Devil: Strategic Voting in the 1999 Ontario Election
    (pp. 166-182)

    Before the 1999 election, several Ontario unions endeavoured to act in concert in order to bring an end to the Harris government. This time, however, they shunned street action in favour of electoral politics and the method of strategic voting. For these unions, the election was another avenue by which collective action could be exercised. Proponents of strategic voting beseeched trade unionists to cast their ballots in favour of candidates who were most likely to win in their ridings, as long as they were not Progressive Conservatives. In so doing, union leaders hoped to avoid splitting anti-Conservative votes, thereby increasing...

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT Revisiting the Collective-action Model
    (pp. 183-208)

    In chapter 3 we presented a preliminary model of collective action that is based on the social-movement literature. From the outset we have contended that, and explained why, modern unions do not fit the definition of a social movement provided by students of the phenomenon. Therefore, based on what is known about unions and their collective behaviours, we have modified the model so that it better accounts for the available parameters of union collective action. The previously discussed case studies offer additional modifications to the initial collective action model. It is time to synthesize these ideas into a revised model...

  13. CHAPTER NINE Additional Thoughts on Collective Action
    (pp. 209-227)

    The foregoing discussion has focused upon the process of collective action. We have argued that governments provide the stimuli that spur union leaders to consider using collective action as a means to countervail government behaviours and defeat policies that threaten unions. The leadersʹ ultimate decision of whether or not to mobilize for collective action is a result of a cost-benefit analysis of the merits and viability of such action. The latter process, in turn, is constrained by perceived degree of the government threat for the leaders, their relevant beliefs, and their interpretation of contextual cues. Those leaders who decide to...

  14. Epilogue. The Morning After: The Post-revolution Years
    (pp. 228-232)

    During the 1990s, the discourse of neo-conservatism permeated the provinces of Alberta and Ontario and acquired a powerful ideological as well as analytical dimension. It became the language of policy-makers and other change agents seeking to justify restructuring of the government, moderation in wages, and greater flexibility in work organization. The neo-conservative discourse captured the imagination of enough of the electorate to sustain the campaign architects in power for more than one term. Yet implementation in Alberta and Ontario did not proceed along similar lines. In the next few years, how may this influence the evolution of industrial relations, and...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 233-246)
  16. References
    (pp. 247-262)
  17. Index
    (pp. 263-279)