Movers & Shakers

Q&A with Alex Colvin — professor of labour relations and conflict resolution
|Canadian Labour Reporter|Last Updated: 06/23/2014

We sat down with Alex Colvin, professor of labour relations and conflict resolution at Cornell University’s ILR School in Ithaca, N.Y., to talk about the possibility of globalizing the labour movement. He sheds light on non-union collective agreements and how Canada became a trailblazer of labour practices.

How has labour evolved recently?
If you go back 30 years to 1980, and you look at how labour relations worked in the English-speaking countries, it was actually pretty different when you went country to country. If you went to Britain or Ireland, they had not a lot of legal regulation, but a lot of direct industrial conflict, intense strikes. Canada and the U.S. had a very similar styled system with our kind of more legally-regulated collective bargaining, basic minimum employment laws relatively hands-off from the government. And then you have Australia and New Zealand, with systems that were much more government-directed and legalistic. Over the course of the next few decades, there was a change in the system and you see the old systems breaking down.

How has Canada fared in all of this?
Thirty years ago, Canada looked quite different than a lot of countries in terms of how our labour relations work. If you go to these other countries today, they look a lot more like Canadian labour relations. When you look at those six countries, Canada’s labour relations have changed really less than any of the other countries, we’ve stayed the most stable, while the other countries have been gradually becoming more like Canada.