Self-Employed Workers Organize: Law, Policy, and Unions.


265 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 978-0-7735-2901-4
DDC 331.88




Reviewed by David Mardiros

David Mardiros is a lawyer and anthropological consultant in Kars,


The distinction between self-employment and regular employment has always been an important issue in determining which workers can benefit from membership in unions and the wages, benefits, and safety benefits that can be gained through collective bargaining. As this book points out, however, the traditional characterization of some workers as “self-employed”—supposed independent contractors who have the ability and bargaining power to negotiate with their employers as equals—does not cover large slices of workers who are caught within this category.


Through case studies of workers in a variety of sectors from newspaper distribution to rural mail carriers, personal care attendants, and freelance editors, the authors make a cogent case for abandoning old notions of “self-employment” in favour of a more inclusive model. The book effectively demonstrates that many workers in our society have been unfairly excluded from enjoying the protections afforded by collective bargaining structures for ideological and economic reasons unrelated to their employment status. Workers in these occupations have little power to negotiating their wages, working conditions, benefits, and health and safety, but because they are defined as independent contractors or entrepreneurs and may work for more than one employer they were and are open to the kinds of exploitation that the union movement has spent many years trying to eliminate.


Aside from the issues that this book raises with regard to policy changes in the way that work and workers are characterized under existing labour laws, the case studies themselves provide interesting insights into the lives of workers involved in a disparate variety of occupations and how they came to be excluded from (or in some cases lost) collective bargaining rights. Because of its wide focus, this book will be of interest not only to those with an interest in labour law and policy but also to readers who are interested in the history of the labour movement in Canada and the struggles it continues to make on behalf of workers in an increasingly diverse, fractured, and uncertain labour climate.


Cranford, Cynthia J., et al., “Self-Employed Workers Organize: Law, Policy, and Unions.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 19, 2024,