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La recherche en relations industrielles dans les universités canadiennes depuis 1960

Louis-Marie Tremblay


Dans son rapport sur l'état de la recherche en relations industrielles dans les universités canadiennes, l’auteur s'intéresse plus spécialement aux problèmes d'ordre méthodologique, au syndicalisme, aux relations patronales-ouvrières, aux aspects législatifs et juridiques des relations industrielles et enfin à la main-d'oeuvre. En conclusion, il fait quelques commentaires qui se dégagent de sa démarche.


Research in Industrial Relations in Canadian Universities since 1960.


In this paper the author presents an inventory of research on Industrial Relations in Canadian Universities. Because of the short time allowed to his investigation, the different meanings of industrial relations concept, the diversity of institutions and people which may be possibly interested, this report constitutes primarily a collection and a classification of the main contributions on Industrial Relations since 1960. Three problems must be solved before going further : the choice of an accurate definition ; the gathering of information ; the building of a model in order to analyse data.


The term Industrial Relations is sometimes confuse because it has more than one connotation. For the purpose of this report the author used a limited meaning relevant to the CIRRI organization.

Collection of data

The author used three ways. First a check list of subsidized projects by the Canadian Department of Labour in co-operation with representatives of Canadian Universities. Second, all members of the Canadian division of IRRA and CIRRI were sent a questionnaire about their researches and publications since 1960. Thus, these sources were supplemented by a study of specialized scientific journals and convention proceedings.

Classification of data

Given the interdisciplinary nature of the industrial relations field the author followed a mixed system of classification, using both, disciplines approaches and subjects index.

Then four main topics were selected : unionism ; employers-employees relations ; legislative and juridical aspects of Industrial Relations and work force and labor.


The author notes and deplores the complete lack of large scale researches on Canadian unionism, especially on historical aspects. There is shortly a narrative of the main events coupled with some short commentaries.

But, Canadian unionism is blooming with research opportunities and hypotheses. Too often Canadian and U.S.A. unionism are confused by academic analysts mainly because historically the American Trade union movement gave the Canadian unionism its ideology, structures and leadership.

The history of the Canadian Trade union movement is a search of a personality, a conquest of an autonomy in a continental environment while maintaining some relations with the former metropolis. The scholars have not been able to exploit this situation to test the hypotheses and the generalizations of foreign searchers in a different context or to promote the fundamental knowledge of unionism or to formulate original hypotheses and propose new analytical models.

Our ideas and generalizations are stereotyped and based on superficial observation or a non-critical analysis of labor leaders assumptions. In Quebec, union competition is a rich area of promising research bearing on the influence of different elites, the progress of some ideologies, the functional and dysfunctional aspects of union's competition, progress and operation and the community integration of voluntary organizations.

On the other hand, it is interesting to note that the historical study of Canadian trade unionism progressed recently even if it is still on a small scale. Unfortunately most researches have not gone beyond the regional approach or the analysis of the very beginnings of Canadian trade unionism.

The structures and administration of trade unions have not been an area of great interest to scholars. But this should be a fertile source of new hypothesis formulation given the broad situational environment of the Canadian Industrial Relations' system and given the different ideologies and leaderships which had an impact upon the Canadian trade union movement.

The study of the historical ties between the Canadian and American trade union movements is another underdeveloped valuable area.

Therefore it is no surprise that theorization is lagging behind when historical and empirical researches are at the very beginning.


The systematic study of employers-employees relations is lacking in Canada as well as in the U.S. The theorical analysis, indeed, is very far behind descriptive and monographical studies. A fast pace of growth of scientific knowledge will require an integrated approach to the industrial relations problems which will encompass at the same time their economic, sociological, political and legal aspects.

Most research on industrial relations has been done by labor economists who generally used simple and limited models and neglected the non-economic variables. Fairly often they were qualified as institutional variables that added little to the scientific knowledge. New efforts are made towards a more integrated approach, some of them following the Dunlop's model.

Scholars have been proficient in studying industrial conflicts. Empirical and theoritical studies of good standing are numerous, some researchers have been worried about the cooling off periods in industrial strife.

At last, the author notes that the university research, on the content of collective agreements is almost non-existant. So scientific knowledge on problems and actual trends of employers-employees relationships needs more depth even on a regional basis, while the observer can note at first sight that there is in Quebec a gradual shift from professional to non-economic matters. For one, the impact of immediate surroundings must be investigated.


The Canadian industrial relations system, as the American system is characterized by many statutory regulations. The author notes that we are far from the voluntarism of the British system where the legislator's role is to make up for deficiency of actors. In Canadian society the industrial relations system is framed by a juridical infra-structure which determines and delimits the power and rights of the parties specifying and controling, sometimes as far as the modalities of exercises of those rights or powers. This well established tradition is accepted by the parties and reflects a political conception of a certain social order. So, we don't have to be surprised by searchers' interest about legal and juridical aspects of Industrial Relations. Their attention is attracted by the caracteristics and evolution of Labor-Law, by its impact on relations between contracting parties, by the prominent part of government administrative agencies.

One author noted that one of the main preoccupation of governments has always been to reduce industrial conflicts by varied means as conciliation and arbitration. But another scholar claims that these compulsory measures prevent real collective bargaining and that the adoption of a voluntary conciliation principle will contribute to reduce the number of conflicts.

And another one proposes to substitute the expression compulsory conciliation by compulsory investigation and mediation, while a last one is opposed to legislations which prohibit strikes until a secret vote is held because this device does not contribute to the prevention of conflicts.

At last, it would be important to underline some case studies on the impact of certain particular legislations on the bargaining units, on the juridical extension of collective agreement in the building industry of Quebec.


So far, sociologists did not pay much attention to labour force problems while economists did a great deal of research. Therefore scientific definitions, hypotheses and models are mainly of an economic character. However sociologists' interest on unemployment and labor market is rising.

One focus of interest has been labor income. Scholars are interested primarily by the structure of wages and the labor share in the national income. They also pay much attention to trade unionism's impact on the level of wages, differential elimination and the problem of wage push inflation. As in America there are economists to promote both sides of the coin. They usually adopt the hypothesis and conclusions of American scientists and then try to validate them in the Canadian environment. However, it seems to the author that the hypothesis of organized labour influence on labour share in the national income is given up too readily. A new area is getting interesting, the problem of workers displacement and readaptation because of technological or economic developments.


In concluding the author makes the following comments :

1) Research has most of the time an actuality look, for researchers intend to contribute to public welfare. This is why their preoccupations evolve with the social and economic problems.

2) Canadian research is still largely influence by American models. Similar problems are studied with similar approaches. So there is a tendency in following American patterns to adopt without critical analysis, the postulates and hypotheses of American scholars. But there are signs of greater intellectual freedom for Canadian scholars.

3) Industrial Relations research is still under-developed. It is less analytical than descriptive and even less theoritical. It is applied rather than fundamental. It is heterogeneous and inarticulated. This is why planning is needed.

4) For the previous reasons there is no research tradition in academic fields. Research work is done by isolated individuals rather than by groups or institutions.

5) There is a real need of interdisciplinary work if a specific discipline is to be developed for the analysis of industrial relations problems. This is why greater cooperation and communication between scholars with different academic backgrounds must be advocated.

In concluding there has been many steps ahead since 1960. With the new generation of young researchers it is hoped that further progress will be made in a short while.