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“We Simply Have to Do that Stuff for our Survival”: Labour, Firm Innovation and Cluster Governance in the Canadian Automotive Parts Industry



Based on a case study of the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) union in southern Ontario we argue for a critical reconstruction of both the labour geography and industrial cluster literature. The former stresses the active role of labour in the formation of economic landscapes, but has yet to explore labour's agency in production and how labour institutions shape technological change, firm innovation and industrial policy and strategy. Conversely, much of the industrial cluster and regional innovation systems literature is silent on the role of unions and industrial relations institutions in fostering innovation. We conclude with two main points. First, while some contend that positive union roles in innovation can only stem from partnerships with management and team working, we argue that innovation is more likely to emerge and worker interests are better protected when traditional collective bargaining structures and progressive employment legislation play a central role. Second, positive workplace and cluster level cooperation in the Canadian automotive parts industry are jeopardized by the broader and ongoing macro-economic restructuring of OEM global production networks due to over-capacity and intense cost-cutting pressures reverberating down the supply chain.