Fighting Back After the Neoliberal Assault: Class Formation, Class Politics, and the Canadian Autoworkers

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Fowler, Tim




This dissertation examines the Canadian Autoworkers during an age of neoliberal globalization. The dissertation places emphasis on internal dynamics and the way these played a key role in shaping class formation within the union. Attention is focused on the CAW Council, an institution within the union that connects rank-and-file activists to the national leadership and acts as a ground for ‘mid-tier’ activists to organize, pursue strategy, and push for change within the union. A great deal of union policy and strategy was developed at Council, where the leadership would present reports, which were then subject to debate by the members. The dissertation argues that Council acted as an important meeting ground for members of the union to challenge the leadership. The dissertation also uses the CAW to look at how unions can constitute themselves as class actors but this does not mean that other identities were ignored. The CAW was frequently a leader on equity politics. Members of equity seeking groups pressed for inclusion within the structures of the union, and, in turn, the union was able to make gains for equity seeking members at the bargaining table. The equity politics of the CAW were based on the union shaping a common identity as members of the working class, while highlighting that equity seekers faced particular barriers on the job, in the union, and in the broader Canadian society. Attention is paid to the way the leadership embraced equity issues, often after being pushed by equity seeking activists, to and how they relayed the importance of equity issues to the broader union membership. In two areas – concessions bargaining and electoral politics – the union appears to have shifted from its original position. Although the CAW split from the international United Autoworkers over the issue of concessions at the bargaining table, the CAW ultimately accepted concessions. In addition, the CAW gradually embraced an strategy of strategic voting in response to the NDP’s inability to present a clear electoral alternative to neoliberalism. Both shifts reflected the union’s changing caluculus of how best to protect the automotive industry, and the jobs of its members.


Political Science
Industrial and Labor Relations




Carleton University

Thesis Degree Name: 

Doctor of Philosophy: 

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Thesis Degree Discipline: 

Political Science

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Theses and Dissertations

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