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Lecture for LSE Staff and Students


Lecture: Labor and the Class Idea in the United States and Canada


Wednesday 6 December 2017 | 18.30-20.00 | Robert McKenzie Room (S219), St Clements Building


Speaker: Professor Barry Eidlin (McGill)


In this lecture, Professor Eidlin will explore why unions are weaker in the U.S. than in Canada, despite the socio-economic similarities between the two countries.




Why are unions weaker in the U.S. than in Canada, despite the two countries’ socio-economic similarities? Many view this cross-border distinction as a byproduct of long-standing differences in political cultures and institutions. But using detailed archival and statistical data, Eidlin finds that this divergence is relatively recent, the result of different ruling party responses to working class upsurge in both countries during the Great Depression and World War II. In Canada, a hostile state response led to labor being incorporated as a class representative. In the U.S., a co-optive state response led to labor being incorporated as an interest group. This embedded “the class idea”—the idea of class as a salient, legitimate political category—more deeply in Canadian policies, institutions, and practices than in the U.S. Eidlin illustrates this through comparative studies of party-class relations, the effects of postwar Red scares, and labor policy divergence. In each case, different patterns of political incorporation enabled or constrained labor’s legitimacy and organizational capacity in different ways. Canadian labor’s role as a class representative legitimized it and expanded its organizational capacity, while U.S. labor’s role as an interest group delegitimized it and undermined its organizational capacity. As a result, union density remained more stable in Canada, while collapsing in the U.S.


This lecture is open to LSE staff and students only. Please email Emma Glassey to register:


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