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Problematizing Labour's Agency: Rescaling Collective Bargaining in British Columbia Pulp and Paper Mills



Abstract:  This paper focuses on the contradictory nature and sometimes unintended consequences of workers’ efforts to defend particular communities against the ravages of capital restructuring. In the past decade, pattern collective bargaining in the highly unionized British Columbia pulp and paper industry has faced enormous strains due to intense industry restructuring. Our analysis focuses on the repercussions of actions taken by union locals in two British Columbia towns—Port Alice and Port Alberni—to try to secure the survival of their pulp and paper mills and, even in the case of Port Alice, the continued existence of the community. Our analysis resonates with recent debates surrounding worker agency as well as writing in the 1980s which addressed the often contradictory and problematic nature of workers’ struggles to “defend place”; writing largely neglected in more recent work in labour geography.