Media @ McGill

Errol Salamon | Media Labour Disputes and Social Change in Canada: An Institutional and Policy History of the Present

Submitted by Justin on


With the assistance of a Media@McGill research fellowship, I will write a journal article. In this article, I aim to illuminate longstanding connections between Canadian media, labour, and social change. I will examine media institutional change and labour policy change in the context of one of the most significant events in the history of Canadian labour: the 1872 strike at the Toronto newspaper, the Globe. After the paper’s management neglected the Toronto Typographical Union’s demands for a shorter workweek, media workers went on strike (Kealey, 1991). The Globe would become the largest-circulation national newspaper of Canada, the Globe and Mail. In response to this strike, Canadian Prime Minister John A. MacDonald founded the Toronto Mail newspaper, and the federal government passed the Trade Unions Act (1872), legalizing labour unions in Canada. Also during the strike, the Toronto Trades Assembly published the first issue of the weekly Ontario Workman, Canada’s first labour newspaper. This strike, thus, resulted in media institutional change and in labour policy change.

My paper will be based on analyses of the following documents: content and institutional records during the strike of the Globe, the Toronto Mail, and the Ontario Workman newspapers; striking workers’ labour union regulatory records, proceedings, and minutes; and critical analyses of the published literature on this strike. I will use this case study to argue that, since the birth of the Canadian labour movement in the mid-19th century, labour conflicts have been at the centre of media histories; likewise, media workers have been at the forefront of labour histories. Labour disputes and media workers have formed part of a long history of labour policy and media institutional changes. Contemporary debates on media ownership, media labour, and labour policy—some common topics in current discussions of Canadian media and of Canadian labour (e.g., Kealey, 1991; Mosco & McKercher, 2008; Raboy, 1990; Soderlund, Brin, Miljan, & Hildebrandt, 2011)—can be traced to media workers during media labour conflicts. These strong links between media and labour, however, are absent in the literatures of media studies and of labour studies. My study could open up other questions of concern to contemporary media scholars such as the relevance of media labour disputes for not only labour policy but also media policy.

This study will become part of my dissertation research on media institutions, labour policy, media policy, media work, and social change in Canada and Quebec. Through the lens of “autonomous” and “immaterial” media labour, I trace a history of labour disputes of media workers from the 1870s to present (e.g., Hardt & Negri, 2000; Lazzarato, 1996). My broader aims are to create public awareness and generate debate about links between historical and contemporary issues regarding media labour, policy change, and institutional change. These aims complement the aims of Media@McGill: to generate public debate about contemporary media and democracy; to inform media policy; and to circulate research at influential, international venues of opinion formation. A Media@McGill fellowship will help to fund my study, enabling me to research and write this paper and present the preliminary results of it at the 2013 International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR) conference in Dublin, Ireland. IAMCR is a key international scholarly conference for media research.



Hardt, M., & Negri, A. (2000). Empire. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Kealey, G. S. (1991). Toronto workers respond to industrial capitalism, 1867-1892. Toronto:

University of Toronto Press.

Lazzarato, M. (1996). Immaterial labor. In P. Virno & M. Hardt (Eds.), Radical thought in Italy:

A potential politics (pp. 142-156). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Mosco, V., & McKercher, C. (2008). The laboring of communication: Will knowledge workers of the world unite? Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

Raboy, M. (1990). Missed opportunities: The story of Canada’s broadcasting policy. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press.

Soderlund, W. C., Brin, C., Miljan, L., & Hildebrandt, K. (2011). Cross-media ownership and

democratic practice in Canada: Content-sharing and the impact of new media. Edmonton: University of Alberta Press.