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Labour Movements: Contemporary Issues and Images

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Labour Movements: Contemporary Issues and Images



Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences


LBST 301W: Labour Movements: Contemporary Issues and Images

Fall 2016





This course introduces the major issues, socio-economic structures, and perceptions that concern unions and other working-class organisations today. It focuses on the problems that are faced by the labour movement, including economism, bureaucratisation, electoral opportunism, racism, sexism, state/employer strategies, and repressive laws. Especial attention is paid to how labour is portrayed in popular culture, how the labour movement engages with these representations, and how `working-class` values relate to the interests of dominant classes.




Students completing this course will have an enhanced understanding of the broad challenges facing the labour movement, plus many specific economic, political, and ideological issues that affect working class lives in Canada today. Students also will be able to critically engage with a variety of scholarly and activist perspectives on the tactics and strategies of exploiting and exploited classes in their mutually constituted struggles.




Ross, S., Savage, L., eds. 2012. Rethinking the Politics of Labour in Canada . Halifax: Fernwood. (Available in the library. Many of the other syllabus readings are accessible via Canvas.)




In addition to the written assignments, students are expected to complete the weekly readings, regularly attend seminars, and participate in classroom discussions.


b) Grading structure: Participation: 16.25% Course Diary: 16.25% Fieldtrip Report: 16.25%


Book Review: 15%

Research Essay Proposal: 16.25%

Research Essay: 35%




LBST 101 is recommended. Writing.


LBST 301 W has an optional fieldtrip & related assignment that may require travel by vehicle, public transit, or foot during the scheduled class hours. Students that do not wish to participate in the fieldtrip will be provided with an alternative assignment. Further details can be obtained from the instructor.


All students are expected to read SFU’s policies concerning academic honesty and student conduct (S 10.01 - S10.04). The policies can be read at this website:  www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student.html







12th SEPT






19th SEPT



Rethinking the Politics of Labour in Canada, Chapter 1 Richer and Poorer, Chapter Two


`Canada`s Workers Movements` `What is to Be Done?` (Pages 373-8)



These Were the Reasons / Beyond Collision



WEEK 3         BUREAUCRACY & US `INTERNATIONALISM`                      26th SEPT



Rethinking the Politics of Labour in Canada, Chapter 2 Canadian Labour in Crisis, Chapter 3

Capitalism and the National Question in Canada, Chapter 5 `What is Trade Union Bureaucracy?`



American Dream



WEEK 4         MIGRANT LABOUR & IMPERIALISM                                        3rd OCT



Rethinking the Politics of Labour in Canada, Chapter 12

Maidens, Meal, Money, Part II, Chapters 4-8


`The Temporary Foreign Worker Program in Canada`

`Native Migrant Labour in the Southern Alberta Sugar-Beet Industry`



Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory



WEEK 5         GENDER & STATE POLICY                                                        17th OCT



Rethinking the Politics of Labour in Canada, Chapter 7

No Place Like Home, Chapter 1


`Feminism as a Class Act`

`Zero Tolerance`



Live Nude Girls Unite!





*** Bring a printed copy of your essay proposal to class, for comments ***





WEEK 7         RACIALIZED LABOUR I                                                                31st OCT



Deer Hunting with Jesus, Chapter 1 Scratching the Surface, Chapter 4


`This is Our Country, These are Our Rights` `Authenticity on the Line`



Made in L.A.



WEEK 8         RACIALIZED LABOUR II / THE LIVING WAGE                        7th NOV



Rethinking the Politics of Labour in Canada, Chapter 10

Rethinking the Politics of Labour in Canada, Chapter 11 Nickel and Dimed, Chapter Three


`Community Unions and the Revival of the American Labor Movement`



A Time to Rise



WEEK 9         YOUTH & STUDENTS                                                                  14th NOV



Student Power, Chapter 1

The Training Trap, Chapter 3

Digital Diploma Mills, Chapters 1-2


`Student Problems`



Pink Floyd – Another Brick in the Wall



WEEK 10      ENVIRONMENTAL MOVEMENTS                                             21st NOV


Rethinking the Politics of Labour in Canada, Chapter 9 Northern Exposures, Chapter 1


`From the Environment to the Workplace . . . and Back Again?` `Changing the Climate`



Tar Sands, Canada for Sale



WEEK 11      ORDINARY & EXTRA-ORDINARY LAWS                                28th NOV



Rethinking the Politics of Labour in Canada, Chapter 13 `Towards Permanent Exceptionalism`


`The Freedom to Strike in Canada`





`What`s Law Got to Do with It?`



Harlan County USA



WEEK 12      SELF-DETERMINATION STRUGGLES                                    5th DEC



Rethinking the Politics of Labour in Canada, Chapter 8 The Decolonization of Quebec, Chapter 2


`The Politics of Solidarity`

`The Socialist Revolution and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination`



Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance





Participation: 10%

  • Every week there are mandatory readings, usually a textbook chapter, an in-depth text, plus one classic work.


  • Bear in mind that the readings may offer strong opinions about a topic, rather than (purport to be) `neutral` summaries of other people`s views.


  • Discussions of all the readings will occur in class.


  • As a minimum, come prepared with one comment and one question for each text.


  • Some readings will be easier or more difficult than others. Remember that you do not have to `agree` with an author. Whilst you will be expected to have a basic understanding of the arguments, do not fear offering your thoughts! The aim is to start a discussion about issues affecting the labour movement, rather than having everyone agree about everything 100% of the time.


  • Grades for participation will be allocated on the basis of your regular involvement in weekly discussions. What matters (in the following order) is a combination of the quality of your contributions, how you encourage the learning of other people in the class, e.g., by prompts and linking your comments to what other people say, and how often you contribute. Saving your reflections for the last class is not going to help your grade as much as promoting thoughtful discussion throughout the semester!


  • Participation will be graded also on contributions to film discussions and involvement with classroom activities, plus your interactions with any guest speakers. In other words, do not switch off whenever the TV is on or guests speak! Analyse what is going on – and be prepared to share your analysis.


  • A problem of democracy in societies like Canada is that workers, i.e., the majority earning wages to live (rather than paying wages), seldom communicate with other people about vital issues. Property-owning classes have little difficulty in dividing and ruling the `mute` masses. As a labour studies program course, an emphasis is on you learning to communicate ideas with your peers. Of course, this skill, plus gaining the confidence to speak in front of an audience, is vital in many walks of life, irrespective of your views on the issues of the day.








Course Diary: 15%


  • Your task is to produce a diary of the course based upon the class readings assigned, discussion and presentations (by the instructor and any guest speakers), and any other readings, seminars, films, and articles from newspapers or magazines that you encounter during the semester and consider as relevant. The length of your diary is expected to be about 2,000 words.


  • For each of the course weeks, you will make a brief journal entry that reflects in some way upon the theme. It should not be only a simple and short summary of the readings, but consider how your thoughts about the readings were changed by the classroom discussion. Think about the following questions:


◦      What did the readings and discussion for that week make you think about?


◦      How did class discussions change (or not) your perspective on the readings?


◦      How are they connected to other things that you are interested in conceptually, methodologically and empirically?


  • As you can tell, there is no standard template diary entry. There is a lot of scope for shaping the entries in the way that you find most appealing. Feel free to include and annotate photos, drawings, or charts.
  • The only fundamental rule for the entries in your weekly diary are that they must have some relation to the theme for that week. It is not expected that all entries will be exactly the same length, but there must be some balance, i.e., the journal cannot be mostly about just one week.


  • If you are unsure early on about your entries, you can show them to the instructor, who will give you feedback.


  • Due: one week after the final class. Send a Microsoft Word copy to the instructor before 11:59pm.


Fieldtrip Report: 15%


  • Depending upon different factors, a walking tour will be undertaken – during class time and at no extra cost – either around the SFU Burnaby campus, noting the different labour activities, unions, and kinds of employment relationships that exist, or to an off-campus local where working people are currently involved in a particularly significant struggle. The instructor will give a talk at multiple locations during this fieldtrip, with contributions from various workers or union representatives.


  • Your task will be to produce a 1,500 word report that references four written sources and addresses the questions below. Use of photos, drawings, or charts, is encouraged.


◦      Economic: Describe the major economic resources/changes throughout the history of this area. Explain why changes occurred or did not occur.


◦      Social: Describe the major social classes/issues/changes throughout the history of this area. Explain why changes occurred or did not occur.


◦      Political: Describe the major political issues/developments throughout the history of this area. Explain why changes occurred or did not occur.


◦       Cultural: Describe the major cultural shifts throughout the history of this area. Explain how the changes relate to economic, social, and political matters.


◦      Environmental: Describe the major environmental issues throughout the history of this area. Explain how these issues relate to economic, social, political, and cultural matters.







◦      Technological: Describe the major technological changes throughout the history of this area. Explain how changes relate to economic, social, political, cultural and environmental issues.


◦      Any comments on/problems with literature on the topic?


◦      What are some of the labour­related connections to your own life?


  • Due: week 10. Send a .doc copy to the instructor before 11:59pm on day of class.


Book Review: 15%

  • Your task is to write a 1000 word review of a scholarly book or a novel dealing with an aspect of the struggle of working people to improve their lives. Some suggestions of how to come up with a book will be offered in class. You must agree the book in advance with the instructor.


  • To get an idea of what is required, you should look at some recent issues of journals listed on the LBST 301 W library webpage for examples of how contributors write reviews. It is a particular style and genre of writing that is meant to survey an argument, critically comment upon it, and also make a modest new contribution. You will be expected to analyse the author`s strengths and weaknesses, and exhibit an understanding of her/his broader conceptual context.
  • In going through your chosen book, there are many things to look out for . . . think about some of the following:


◦      Who wrote what, why, and whether the where and when of the writing also had any great significance.


◦       How can the content, approach, and style of the author best be summarised?


◦       To what extent does the author problematise the topic that they are writing about?


◦       What is the key thesis of the work – and how does this relate to the author`s purpose?


◦       What might be the broader intellectual context of the work, including its relationship to other texts, both those mentioned by the work in question and the other readings?

◦       How does the work illuminate issues today and relate to contemporary debates?


◦      What is the particular structure of the author`s argument and the relationship between theoretical analysis and empirical discussion?


◦      What are the author`s research methods and sources? How effectively are these used? Are there any problems with using such materials?


◦       Do you have any criticisms of the author`s approach and/or analysis/conclusions?


  • Due: week twelve. Send a .doc copy to the instructor before 11:59pm on day of class.


Research Essay Proposal: 10%


  • A major problem with the labour movement today is its lack of understanding of its own present situation and general reliance for its policies upon studies conducted by researchers whose interests and life backgrounds differ from those of working people.


  • In this respect, you are tasked to write an analysis that can benefit the working people of British Columbia in a particular sector of production. The full details are below.
  • For your research essay proposal, you will need to submit a 500 word statement that includes the following:


◦      Provisional title for your essay;


◦      Provisional thesis statement for your essay;


◦      List of five sources (listen carefully during the library session for information);


◦       Eight provisional themes (think of them as paragraph headings) for your essay.


  • Due: week seven. Send a .doc copy to the instructor before 11:59pm on day of class.





Research Essay: 35%

  • Your task is to produce a written analysis of the conditions of the working class in ONE sector of production in British Columbia. (By conditions of the working class, this means paying attention to everything that makes their way of life distinctive, something that is discussed below.)


  • You have complete freedom to choose the specific sector that you wish to write on. One or two caveats exist – including that you need to convince the instructor that the cohort you seek to investigate can be considered as more or less `working class`. Fortune 500 CEOs are rarely considered as working class! However, your focus need not be a stereotyped manufacturing job – retail workers, trades contractors, housework (rearing a new generation of workers?), miners, film and TV workers, teachers, forestry workers, nurses, waiting staff, agriculturalists, etc., are plausible suggestions too.


  • You must get your topic agreed with the instructor by email before starting to write!


Ideally you will have a topic before we meet in the library, so that you can ask specific questions during the research class. If you submit a research essay without having the topic agreed in advance, you will not receive a grade.

  • Choosing a sector that is related to you personally (or your family), or otherwise somewhat original to study, will help keep your interest throughout the semester – not everyone in this course will be permitted to write about the same sector.


  • The style of the analysis should be `as if` you are writing a factual study for a labour organisation concerned about the chief economic, political, and cultural characteristics, conditions of work, and livelihood prospects of working class people in B.C..


  • Imagine that you are preparing a research paper for a trade union, a progressive political party, or interested citizen. Indeed, you may wish to contact a representative union or organisation for further information. However, you will need to go beyond merely describing statistics to make an argument about the general trajectory that working class life in the sector you have chosen is moving.


  • What the above means is paying attention to working class conditions of life in a holistic sense – what are the material and discursive (ideological) conditions that make your chosen sociological cohort distinctive from other communities?


  • As an example, your written research will perhaps indicate for the reader:


◦      What are some of the chief economic issues related to the `reproduction of labour`, i.e., wages, costs of living, ratio of inflation over the years to wage increases or decreases, etc..


◦      How does your chosen sector relate to the fortunes of other sectors?


◦      What are the main forms of competition in the sector?


◦      What are the general levels of unionisation in the sector?


◦      What are the principle unions that represent workers? Any prominent union politics or disagreements about organising tactics?


◦      Can anything be noted about the general attitude of other social classes of the B.C. population to people working in your chosen sector? Why do you think that people have the views that they do?


◦       Are there any positive or negative effects of immigration in your chosen sector?


◦       Is there anything remarkable about the ethnic composition of your chosen sector?


◦       Is there anything remarkable about the gender balance of your chosen sector?


◦       Is there anything else remarkable about the demographics of your sector, e.g., age?


◦       Why might your sector have chosen to originally locate in the area that it did? To what extent was this based on the control of a suitable labour force?





◦      What are the different levels of income in your chosen sector? How does this compare to similarly skilled work in B.C.?


◦      What can be commented upon about the degree of stratification in the workforce of your chosen sector and its management?


◦      Are there any contentious issues existing surrounding the reskilling or deskilling of the workforce?


◦      Is there anything notable about the general health of the workforce in your chosen sector, e.g., known health issues due to the form of work?


◦       What is the typical religious composition of the workforce? Is there a difference or similarity with the majority of the managers and/or owners of property in the sector?

◦      Does the sector have a significant degree of foreign ownership?


◦      How is the ownership of property in your chosen sector typically structured?


◦      What are the predominant ways that your chosen sector is financed?


◦      Are there any especially notable political controversies about the sector?


◦      typical other industries in the geographical area – and explain why they are there, the What are the typical backward and forward linkages that exist or do not in your sector, i.e., to other types of economic activity?


◦       Is it even the case that workers in the sector are typically married or unmarried?


◦      What does a `typical` worker in your chosen sector look like?


◦       How do people often suggest that working conditions be improved in your sector?


◦      What are the major social or geographical obstacles to unionisation in your sector? How are working people trying to overcome these difficulties?


◦      What are perceived as the main difficulties facing your sector as a whole? Do you agree with these views after studying the sector?


◦      Is there anything distinctive about the historical-geographical origins of the workforce in your chosen sector? Has anything changed over the years?


◦       What are the major sociological characteristics of workforces in general in B.C.? How does your sector compare to them – similar or unusual? Explain why.

◦       What are the most important branches of production throughout the history of the B.C. region, since colonisation, and how does your sector relate to them?

◦       What have been the most `typical` forms of property (e.g., in land, industry, etc.), as controlled by different social classes at different times, in your sector?

◦       What have been the most distinctive `sub-regional` geographies of work within the B.C. region? In other words, does work in your chosen sector, in its chief localities, resemble or differ much from other types of work in the area?

◦      What have been the main social, political and economic causes and impacts of technological change upon the sector?


◦      What is the role of pressure groups, political parties and trade unions in relation to your chosen working population?


◦      What are the general political demands in the region by your population? How have these been expressed or articulated? Can any connection be drawn with any broader particular form of work or locality?


◦      What are the workplace problems/grievances of your chosen sector, both generally and that are particular to the B.C. region?


◦      What are the largest environmental aspects/problems of the B.C. region, as associated with your chosen sector?


◦      What are the most important forms of cultural expression/cultural movements associated with your chosen sector?





◦       What have been/are the most important items of legislation affecting work in your chosen sector? Explain why legislation has changed (or not) over the years.

◦      What have been the main consequences of different legislations upon your chosen sector in B.C.? Are there any connections to changes elsewhere in Canada, or perhaps from abroad?


◦      How do you `theoretically` account for the particular (changing) sociology and geography of the working class in your chosen sector?


  • Your investigation will need a suitable title, a brief introduction, clear thesis, and a conclusion.


  • Statistics, data and perspectives that are used but have not been generated by you need to be referenced in a way that any reader of the report can easily locate the same original source.


  • The report will also need appropriate sections to divide and organise the contents. Think carefully about how you want to do this, and how you will divide your work time up. One technique often used as a way of starting off is to think of the divisions between school subjects – e.g., politics, economics, sociology, technology, environmental studies, cultural studies, law, etc.. At the same time, think about the way these things all connect together – and whether there might be an overall agenda, of one class or another, for the future of the sector!


  • On the one hand, the course director will be available to help you with preparing this report. You are not going to be `alone` in preparing this report. Do not be afraid to ask questions about the report – before the lecture begins, after the lecture ends, during the lecture break or during office hours are ideal times. Do bring draft copies of what you are working on, for feedback.


  • On the one hand, even though the instructor and other people will give you advice, the contents and structure of the report is ultimately for you to decide!


  • Do not underestimate the time that will be required for this project. The opportunity exists to gain an excellent grade, but it depends ultimately upon how well you organise your research activities and writing up.


  • Note that the Researching Labour Movements class will be on how to go about your research! Note too that other classes may involve hints or guest speakers that will give you expert advice about how to write up your research findings. Make full use of these occasions.


  • Whilst you are encouraged to share useful information and sources with other people in the course, the grade will be awarded individually – it is a test of how well you can work by yourself, for an extended period of time.


  • Whilst the lectures will not directly provide you with empirical material for your report, the general themes and different theoretical approaches should certainly be borne in mind. There are some specific places that you can start off with in your initial search for data to organise in the report, and these will be pointed out by the instructor. For the moment, here are some useful places to find resources and help you get started:












  • Whilst you are expected to use peer-reviewed academic sources and other secondary data, it may be pertinent to provide the results of your personal first-hand research, or sources such as newspapers and non-academic online materials.


  • Making a sustained case at length is a very important skill. As an exercise, it separates out those with skills other than being able to simply memorise textbook extracts. Nevertheless, bear in mind that `facts` come `prepackaged`. You will need to critically evaluate your sources for this assignment.


  • To discuss `facts`:


◦      What information does the source give me?


◦      Author/producer of source?


◦      Date of production?


◦      Place of production?


◦      Background events to source?


◦      For what purpose was the source produced?


◦       What was the intended audience of the source? (public, private, limited, etc.?)


◦      What views and ideas are expressed?


◦      What evidence is offered in support of these views?


◦      Are there any other details in the source?


◦      How reliable is the source?


  • Also assess your source for its . . .


◦      Objectivity: even-handed, fair treatment which considers a range of views in a balanced fashion and attempts to gain the truth by examining facts, not to prove a particular view


◦      Comprehensive coverage: whether or not a source has covered all of the relevant detail and factual material necessary to provide the background information for forming a balanced view


◦      Is the source accurate in the way it relates to facts?


◦      Has it conveyed all the necessary facts?


◦      How has the author`s purpose affected the objectivity of the source?


◦       Have the author`s opinions interfered with an objective coverage of the facts?


◦      How do the author`s views/ideas affect the objectivity of the source?


◦      What likely effects have the geographical origins, date of publication and historical context had on the production of the source?


◦      Will the identity of the author be likely to affect the objectivity of the source?





◦      Do you trust the source?


◦      In what particular areas is the source reliable to be used to support an argument or to provide an example?


◦      How useful is the source?


◦      Of what is the source an example?


◦      How reliable is the source?


◦      For what purposes is the source reliable?


◦      Which arguments can the source be used to support or refute?


◦      Remember that every source has some use to the researcher, even if only as an example of an unreliable or partial source!


  • 4,000 words approximately, excluding your references and any tables or figures.


  • Use any professional referencing style – just make sure that you reference!


  • Use 12 point Times New Roman font and single-line spacing – it makes it easier for the instructor to gauge how many words you have written, plus there is no contention about whether your work is easy to read or not. 
  • Due date is one week after the last class, 11:59pm. Send a .doc copy to the instructor before 11:59pm on day of class.


  • Late penalty of 10% per day, including weekends. If there are things going on in your life that make it difficult to submit in time, the instructor needs to be made aware in advance, with documentation possibly being necessary, e.g., a medical note.


  • Suitable completed research assignments will be nominated by the instructor for various Labour Studies Program financial awards and prizes, the details of which can be found here:  www.labour.sfu.ca/awards


Labour Studies Undergraduate Grading System:



A+ 95 – 100

B+ 80 - 84

C+ 65 - 69


90 - 94


75 - 79


60 - 64

A-  85 - 89

B-  70 - 74

C-  55 - 59


50 – 54


0 – 49


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