Public Works : State Formation, Class Composition, and the Making of Ontario’s Public Sector

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Hurl, Christopher Ryan




This dissertation examines the role of labour in the formation of a modern public sector
in Ontario. Specifically, I explore how the public sector has been rendered intelligible
and administrable through strategies of ‘government at a distance,’ which have aimed to
disentangle labour from its strategic location in vital infrastructural networks, enabling its
regulation through increasingly centralized administrative structures. I draw from three
historical case studies in developing my argument. First, I examine how civic
employees’ unions contributed to the reconfiguration of sanitation work in early
twentieth century Toronto. Second, I explore how the federation of public sector unions
on a provincial and national scale in part provoked the emergence of regional
governance structures across the province in the 1940s and 1950s. Finally, I explore
how interest arbitration was taken up as a means of depoliticizing the bargaining
process in Ontario’s hospital sector through the 1960s and 1970s, galvanizing new
understandings of the public sector as a distinctive domain. In each of these cases, I
explore how new forms of expertise were developed which aimed to impartially
calculate the value of public work and render it comparable across disparate sites. In
this sense, I draw from Foucault in viewing the formation of a public sector as a process
of ‘governmentalization’ -- setting up an economy at the level of the entire state. While a
great deal of literature in governmentality studies has tended to focus on the role of
state officials in this process, I emphasize how workers, at various times, have been
able to build leverage through their critical position in the provision of services, and
change the scale at which their labour is framed through establishing new levels of
organization. In this sense, I argue that the formation of the public sector a uniform and
coherent domain has in many ways been the outcome of struggles from below. In other
words, workers have played a very active role in the production of the public sector.


Labor unions - Ontario




Carleton University

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Theses and Dissertations

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