Labour Studies Index

Updated: 2022-05-16

Union Democracy and Labour Rights: A Cautionary Tale

Document type Article
Author Walchuk, Brad
Journal Global Labour Journal
Volume 2
Date 2011-05-29
ISSN 1918-6711
Pages 106-124


In recent years, trade unions in Canada have become increasingly reliant on constructing workers’ rights as part of the broader rubric of human rights. While the topic of labour rights has become popular in recent academic literature, it remains under-explored. An important element of constructing labour rights as human rights is its impact on union democracy and rank-and-file mobilization, though this has yet to be fully explored. Utilizing the case study of the Hospital Employees’ Union (HEU) struggle against Bill 29, this paper suggests that a reliance on the construction of labour rights as human rights and the corresponding judicial strategy prevents the development of a more radical, grassroots social movement unionism and instead facilitates the proliferation of hierarchical, elite dominated forms trade unionism. It concludes by suggesting that unions must be cautious of the potential downfalls of quelling militant grassroots activism in lieu of a rights-based challenge.