Academic journal article McGill Sociological Review

Paid Education Leave Program and Development: The Canadian Auto Workers Case Study

Academic journal article McGill Sociological Review

Paid Education Leave Program and Development: The Canadian Auto Workers Case Study

Article excerpt


The strength of a labour movement is connected to development1 as there is a linkage between the strength of workers' movements and the provision of social goods (Camfield 2011; Coburn 2009; Muntaner et al. 2004; Robertson and Murninghan 2006). I examine the Canadian Auto Workers' (CAW)2 Paid Education Leave (PEL) program and its relation to progressive development in Canada. I explore the CAW's PEL program since it is arguably the most well-established and progressive PEL program in North America (Roth 2007; Weststar 2004, 2006). In particular, the CAW's four week Core Program (CP) is the focus since it concentrates on worker empowerment (Weststar 2004). This analysis is carried out through the interpretation of the written curriculum. I also extend my argument and theoretical connections via previous survey research which examines the before and after outcomes of PEL participants.

I employ Amartya Sen's (1999) definition of development based on the expansion of instrumental freedoms (Sen 1999; Terry and Abdullat 2004). Next, I broadly and briefly discuss how the labour movement is related to the expansion of freedoms through the life-ground ethical perspective which corresponds to instrumental freedoms being the means and ends of development (Camfield 2011; Noonan 2008, 2008b, 2009). Unions and the labour movement pressure for and gain the more equitable distribution of goods within Canadian society (Navarro and Shi 2002). Therefore, strengthening the labour movement corresponds to the progressive development of Canadian society by expanding freedoms (Sen 1999). The CP is one avenue to increase worker empowerment and development as freedom in Canada by strengthening the labour movement.

Next, I describe the emergence of the CAW's PEL program (Roth 1997, 2007; Weststar 2004). I also examine the curriculum by analytically separating and discussing the predominant themes as follows: i) education, ii) media, iii) history, iv) economy, and v) politics and democracy. I describe and analyse the CP's curriculum as an alternative workers' understanding of socio-political and economic issues which builds confidence and strengthens membership participation (Bowles and Gintis 1976; Carnoy 1974; Gramsci 2007). I then apply Sen's five instrumental freedoms to the CAW's CP. This program has the potential to further progressive development in Canadian society through the dissemination of knowledge that allows workers to situate themselves within the current political and economic milieu. Finally, I discuss the limitations of the CAW's CP (Gindin 1995; Livingstone and Roth 2004; Roth 1997; Weststar 2004).

Essentially, this paper will: i) describe and interpret key features of the CAW's PEL program, ii) explain how the aims and outcomes of CAW's PEL contribute to worker empowerment and engagement, iii) connect such aims and outcomes to Amartya Sen's conception of development as the expansion of freedoms, and iv) discuss the limitations of the CP and suggest potential avenues for future research. First, however, I will introduce and connect Sen's concept of development to the aims of the labour movement and then contextualize the emergence of the CAW's PEL.

Sen's Development as Freedom

According to Amartya Sen (1999), development is "a process of expanding the real freedoms that people enjoy" (Sen 1999:3). Freedom is a means and end goal of development. Increasing freedom as the objective of development expands this project to 'developed' countries since "the richer countries too often have deeply disadvantaged people, who lack basic opportunities of healthcare, or functional education, or gainful employment, or economic and social security" (Sen 1999:6, 15). There are five instrumental freedoms that promote development by increasing the general capabilities of persons, which are: i) political freedoms, ii) economic facilities, iii) social opportunities, iv) transparency guarantees, and v) protective securities (Sen 1999:10). …

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