LBST 301W: Labour Movements: Contemporary Issues and Images
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LBST 301W: Labour Movements: Contemporary Issues and Images
1. COURSE DESCRIPTION :
This course introduces the major issues, socio-economic structures, and perceptions that concern
unions and other working-class organisations today. It focuses on the problems that are faced by
the labour movement, including economism, bureaucratisation, electoral opportunism, racism,
sexism, state/employer strategies, and repressive laws. Especial attention is paid to how labour
is portrayed in popular culture, how the labour movement engages with these representations,
and how `working-class` values relate to the interests of dominant classes.
2. COURSE OBJECTIVES or LEARNING OUTCOMES:
Students completing this course will have an enhanced understanding of the broad challenges
facing the labour movement, plus many specific economic, political, and ideological issues that
affect working class lives in Canada today. Students also will be able to critically engage with a
variety of scholarly and activist perspectives on the tactics and strategies of exploiting and
exploited classes in their mutually constituted struggles.
3. Research Essay: 35%
• Your task is to produce a written analysis of the conditions of the working class in
ONE sector of production in British Columbia. (By conditions of the working class,
this means paying attention to everything that makes their way of life distinctive,
something that is discussed below.)
• You have complete freedom to choose the specific sector that you wish to write on. One
or two caveats exist – including that you need to convince the instructor that the cohort
you seek to investigate can be considered as more or less `working class`. Fortune 500
CEOs are rarely considered as working class! However, your focus need not be a
stereotyped manufacturing job – retail workers, trades contractors, housework (rearing a
new generation of workers?), miners, film and TV workers, teachers, forestry workers,
nurses, waiting staff, agriculturalists, etc., are plausible suggestions too.
• You must get your topic agreed with the instructor by email before starting to write!
Ideally you will have a topic before we meet in the library, so that you can ask specific
questions during the research class. If you submit a research essay without having the
topic agreed in advance, you will not receive a grade.
• Choosing a sector that is related to you personally (or your family), or otherwise
somewhat original to study, will help keep your interest throughout the semester – not
everyone in this course will be permitted to write about the same sector.
• The style of the analysis should be `as if` you are writing a factual study for a labour
organisation concerned about the chief economic, political, and cultural characteristics,
conditions of work, and livelihood prospects of working class people in B.C..
• Imagine that you are preparing a research paper for a trade union, a progressive political
party, or interested citizen. Indeed, you may wish to contact a representative union or
organisation for further information. However, you will need to go beyond merely
describing statistics to make an argument about the general trajectory that working class
life in the sector you have chosen is moving.
• What the above means is paying attention to working class conditions of life in a holistic
sense – what are the material and discursive (ideological) conditions that make your
chosen sociological cohort distinctive from other communities?
• As an example, your written research will perhaps indicate for the reader:
◦ What are some of the chief economic issues related to the `reproduction of labour`,
i.e., wages, costs of living, ratio of inflation over the years to wage increases or
◦ How does your chosen sector relate to the fortunes of other sectors?
◦ What are the main forms of competition in the sector?
◦ What are the general levels of unionisation in the sector?
◦ What are the principle unions that represent workers? Any prominent union politics
or disagreements about organising tactics?
◦ Can anything be noted about the general attitude of other social classes of the B.C.
population to people working in your chosen sector? Why do you think that people
have the views that they do?
◦ Are there any positive or negative effects of immigration in your chosen sector?
◦ Is there anything remarkable about the ethnic composition of your chosen sector?
◦ Is there anything remarkable about the gender balance of your chosen sector?
◦ Is there anything else remarkable about the demographics of your sector, e.g., age?
◦ Why might your sector have chosen to originally locate in the area that it did? To
what extent was this based on the control of a suitable labour force?
◦ What are the different levels of income in your chosen sector? How does this
compare to similarly skilled work in B.C.?
◦ What can be commented upon about the degree of stratification in the workforce of
your chosen sector and its management?
◦ Are there any contentious issues existing surrounding the reskilling or deskilling of
◦ Is there anything notable about the general health of the workforce in your chosen
sector, e.g., known health issues due to the form of work?
◦ What is the typical religious composition of the workforce? Is there a difference or
similarity with the majority of the managers and/or owners of property in the sector?
◦ Does the sector have a significant degree of foreign ownership?
◦ How is the ownership of property in your chosen sector typically structured?
◦ What are the predominant ways that your chosen sector is financed?
◦ Are there any especially notable political controversies about the sector?
◦ typical other industries in the geographical area – and explain why they are there, the
What are the typical backward and forward linkages that exist or do not in your
sector, i.e., to other types of economic activity?
◦ Is it even the case that workers in the sector are typically married or unmarried?
◦ What does a `typical` worker in your chosen sector look like?
◦ How do people often suggest that working conditions be improved in your sector?
◦ What are the major social or geographical obstacles to unionisation in your sector?
How are working people trying to overcome these difficulties?
◦ What are perceived as the main difficulties facing your sector as a whole? Do you
agree with these views after studying the sector?
◦ Is there anything distinctive about the historical-geographical origins of the workforce
in your chosen sector? Has anything changed over the years?
◦ What are the major sociological characteristics of workforces in general in B.C.?
How does your sector compare to them – similar or unusual? Explain why.
◦ What are the most important branches of production throughout the history of the
B.C. region, since colonisation, and how does your sector relate to them?
◦ What have been the most `typical` forms of property (e.g., in land, industry, etc.), as
controlled by different social classes at different times, in your sector?
◦ What have been the most distinctive `sub-regional` geographies of work within the
B.C. region? In other words, does work in your chosen sector, in its chief localities,
resemble or differ much from other types of work in the area?
◦ What have been the main social, political and economic causes and impacts of
technological change upon the sector?
◦ What is the role of pressure groups, political parties and trade unions in relation to
your chosen working population?
◦ What are the general political demands in the region by your population? How have
these been expressed or articulated? Can any connection be drawn with any broader
particular form of work or locality?
◦ What are the workplace problems/grievances of your chosen sector, both generally
and that are particular to the B.C. region?
◦ What are the largest environmental aspects/problems of the B.C. region, as associated
with your chosen sector?
◦ What are the most important forms of cultural expression/cultural movements
associated with your chosen sector?
◦ What have been/are the most important items of legislation affecting work in your
chosen sector? Explain why legislation has changed (or not) over the years.
◦ What have been the main consequences of different legislations upon your chosen
sector in B.C.? Are there any connections to changes elsewhere in Canada, or
perhaps from abroad?
◦ How do you `theoretically` account for the particular (changing) sociology and
geography of the working class in your chosen sector?
• Your investigation will need a suitable title, a brief introduction, clear thesis, and a
• Statistics, data and perspectives that are used but have not been generated by you need to
be referenced in a way that any reader of the report can easily locate the same original
• The report will also need appropriate sections to divide and organise the contents. Think
carefully about how you want to do this, and how you will divide your work time up. One
technique often used as a way of starting off is to think of the divisions between school
subjects – e.g., politics, economics, sociology, technology, environmental studies, cultural
studies, law, etc.. At the same time, think about the way these things all connect
together – and whether there might be an overall agenda, of one class or another, for the
future of the sector!
• On the one hand, the course director will be available to help you with preparing this
report. You are not going to be `alone` in preparing this report. Do not be afraid to ask
questions about the report – before the lecture begins, after the lecture ends, during the
lecture break or during office hours are ideal times. Do bring draft copies of what you
are working on, for feedback.
• On the one hand, even though the instructor and other people will give you advice, the
contents and structure of the report is ultimately for you to decide!
• Do not underestimate the time that will be required for this project. The opportunity
exists to gain an excellent grade, but it depends ultimately upon how well you organise
your research activities and writing up.
• Note that the Researching Labour Movements class will be on how to go about your
research! Note too that other classes may involve hints or guest speakers that will give
you expert advice about how to write up your research findings. Make full use of these
• Whilst you are encouraged to share useful information and sources with other people in
the course, the grade will be awarded individually – it is a test of how well you can work
by yourself, for an extended period of time.
• Whilst the lectures will not directly provide you with empirical material for your report,
the general themes and different theoretical approaches should certainly be borne in
mind. There are some specific places that you can start off with in your initial search for data to organise in the report, and these will be pointed out by the instructor. For the moment, here are some useful places to find resources and help you get started:
it may be pertinent to provide the results of your personal first-hand research, or
sources such as newspapers and non-academic online materials.
• Making a sustained case at length is a very important skill. As an exercise, it separates
out those with skills other than being able to simply memorise textbook extracts.
Nevertheless, bear in mind that `facts` come `prepackaged`. You will need to critically
evaluate your sources for this assignment.
• To discuss `facts`:
◦ What information does the source give me?
◦ Author/producer of source?
◦ Date of production?
◦ Place of production?
◦ Background events to source?
◦ For what purpose was the source produced?
◦ What was the intended audience of the source? (public, private, limited, etc.?)
◦ What views and ideas are expressed?
◦ What evidence is offered in support of these views?
◦ Are there any other details in the source?
◦ How reliable is the source?
• Also assess your source for its . . .
◦ Objectivity: even-handed, fair treatment which considers a range of views in a
balanced fashion and attempts to gain the truth by examining facts, not to prove a
◦ Comprehensive coverage: whether or not a source has covered all of the relevant
detail and factual material necessary to provide the background information for
forming a balanced view
◦ Is the source accurate in the way it relates to facts?
◦ Has it conveyed all the necessary facts?
◦ How has the author`s purpose affected the objectivity of the source?
◦ Have the author`s opinions interfered with an objective coverage of the facts?
◦ How do the author`s views/ideas affect the objectivity of the source?
◦ What likely effects have the geographical origins, date of publication and historical
context had on the production of the source?
◦ Will the identity of the author be likely to affect the objectivity of the source?
◦ Do you trust the source?
◦ In what particular areas is the source reliable to be used to support an argument or
to provide an example?
◦ How useful is the source?
◦ Of what is the source an example?
◦ How reliable is the source?
◦ For what purposes is the source reliable?
◦ Which arguments can the source be used to support or refute?
◦ Remember that every source has some use to the researcher, even if only as an
example of an unreliable or partial source!
• 4,000 words approximately, excluding your references and any tables or figures.
• Use any professional referencing style – just make sure that you reference!
• Use 12 point Times New Roman font and single-line spacing – it makes it easier for the instructor to gauge how many words you have written, plus there is no contention about whether your work is easy to read or not.
• Due date is one week after the last class, 11:59pm. Send a .doc copy to the instructor
before 11:59pm on day of class.
• Late penalty of 10% per day, including weekends. If there are things going on in your
life that make it difficult to submit in time, the instructor needs to be made aware in
advance, with documentation possibly being necessary, e.g., a medical note.
• Suitable completed research assignments will be nominated by the instructor for various Labour Studies Program financial awards and prizes, the details of which can be found here: www.labour.sfu.ca/awards
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