Back to Work: Labour, State and Industrial Relations in Canada


301 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-17-603502-8
DDC 331.12'042'0971






Christopher English is a history lecturer at the Memorial University of
Newfoundland and a recent law-school graduate.


The Canadian state is an important player in the process by which labor
and management seek to resolve their differences. State-sponsored
conciliation and mediation prior to strikes or lockout, the Rand Formula
for mandatory checkoff, and successor rights are examples of distinct
departures from the American norms that, in the decade before 1945, did
much to inspire Canadian practice. An examination of the historical
roots, evolution, and impact of this tripartite regime (termed here
“the work of politics”) illustrates an important aspect of public
policy (“the politics of work”).

Russell adds two things to the work of labor historians who have
described the emergence and consolidation of this regime. First, he
provides statistical support for the view that state intervention has
favored management over labor. (He prefers the more evocative terms of
“capital” against “the workers.”) Secondly, he insists on the
importance of theoretical constructs, or models, as a starting point and
frame for historical research. Readers who follow the sometimes obscure
arguments in this respect will confront an analysis inspired by Antonio
Gramsci. They may persevere with the author in sorting out these
questions that “pertain to the construction and efficacy of a hegemony
premised upon authoritarian production relations and generalized social

In the end, Russell’s sympathies are clearly with a strategy by which
labor would employ free collective bargaining backed by unrestricted
resort to the strike. Despite this preference, he recognizes that
Canada’s tripartite regime is both the product of historical
development and, on balance, an approach that provides labor with a
limited but significant autonomy. In the face of the
government-orchestrated setbacks over the last 20 years—wage freezes
in 1975-78, 1982, and 1991; back-to-work legislation; and the
designation of selected civil servants as essential workers—Canadian
labor has weathered the storm. Whether it has done so because of, or in
spite of, the state’s “politics of work” will continue to be


Russell, Bob., “Back to Work: Labour, State and Industrial Relations in Canada,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed March 1, 2024,