Thursday, February 27, 2020

History of labour

News came the other day of a "historic precedent" in labour law. A group of bicycle couriers persuaded the Ontario Labour Relations Board to take their side in a struggle with the food delivery app-company Foodora. 
"This is going to be used as a precedent for every other case in Ontario and for that matter elsewhere in Canada, so it’s a big deal,” [said one of the group's leaders].
The big deal? The board ruled that the workers have the right to form a union, if they can manage to organize their members and resist the anti-organizational drives the company will surely organize and the government will surely support, and win a first contract and....  That is, they have about the rights that were thought to have been confirmed in Canadian law about eighty years ago. 

The labour law scholar Harry Arthurs wrote a memoir last year in which he reflected that, having devoted his career to the burgeoning field of labour law that underpinned a new climate in which workers had rights and the running of the economy was to some extent negotiable, he had lived long enough to see unions and the dignity of labour pretty much obliterated, leaving him wondering about the point of the labour law he once helped to create.

There would seem still to be a role for labour historians, however. Someone will have to chronicle how the labour tide that rolled in during the late 19th and early 20th century somehow receded again.
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