The Freedom to Strike in Canada: A Brief Legal History

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Canadian Labour and Employment Law Journal. Volume 15, Number 2 (2010), p. 333-353.


Canada; Legal History; stikes


This paper looks at the "deep roots" of striking as a social practice in Canada, by providing an analytic framework for approaching the history of the right to strike, and then sketching the contours of that history. Focusing on the three key worker freedoms - to associate, to bargain collectively, and to strike - the authors trace the jural relations between workers, employers and the state through four successive regimes of industrial legality in Canada: master and servant; liberal voluntarism; industrial voluntarism; and industrial pluralism, the latter marked by the adoption of the Wagner Act model. On the basis of their review of those regimes, the authors argue that long before the modern scheme, workers enjoyed a virtually unlimited freedom to strike for collective bargaining purposes. Although government-imposed restrictions on the freedom have increased significantly, especially under industrial pluralism, legislatures have typically provided workers with compensating trade-offs, including rights enforceable against their employers. However in contrast to the historical pattern, public-sector workers have with growing frequency been subjected to "exceptionalism," i.e. the suspension or limitation of freedoms without a grant of compensatory rights. In the authors' view, it is the imposition of such measures that will likely provide the context for consideration of whether the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects the right to strike.

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