Scaling up by law? Canadian labour law, the nation-state and the case of the British Columbia Health Employees Union



This paper examines the Canadian Supreme Court’s 2007 ruling in favour of the Health Employees Union (HEU) versus the British Columbia government. Based on international labour law, this ruling recognised collective bargaining as part of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. While recent research in human and labour geography on labour law and the state have emphasised its contingent, topological and site-based nature I argue: (i) that this case reflects how Canadian unions became deeply embedded in post-war hegemonic splicings of law and space and the state’s role in the reproduction of the wage-labour relation and (ii) while the HEU’s struggles and the use of international law contest such splicings, these are still sharply inflected by existing nation-state legal systems that remain both relatively resilient and ambivalent about labour rights. The HEU case thus reveals that scaling up by law may not protect worker interests if labour is otherwise weak.