Profile: Leo Panitch (1945-2020) was one of Canada’s greatest scholars of the labour movement and socialism as well as a socialist activist. He grew up in an immigrant, working-class Jewish family in Winnipeg’s historically socialist North End. His dad was a blue-collar fur trade worker and trade union activist. Influenced by his parents and his milieu, Leo developed socialist perspectives at a young age. Those were cemented by his studies at the University of Manitoba and then the London School of Economics, where he earned his PhD.
A professor of political science at Carleton University (1972 to 1984) and then York University till his retirement, Panitch became a leading Canadian left-wing scholar with the publication of his edited work, The Canadian State, in 1977. Eight other books followed that analyzed the struggles for workers’ rights and for socialism in Canada, the United Kingdom, and beyond. As editor of the annual Socialist Register from 1984 to his passing, Panitch assembled writings by the world’s leading scholars on issues regarding the struggles of working people and oppressed peoples more generally across the globe.
His historical work, with Donald Swartz, From Consent to Coercion: The Assault on Trade Union Freedoms, first published in 1988, is an epic study of state efforts from the 1950s onwards to erode the trade union rights won by workers through wartime and post-war struggles. His ALHI interview explores the themes of that book while looking at the larger picture of workers’ struggles in Canada, exemplified by the strike wave of 1919, of which the Winnipeg General Strike was the largest manifestation.
Panitch considered his 2012 book, The Making of Global Capitalism: The Political Economy of American Empire, co-authored with long-time director of the Canadian Auto Workers Sam Gindin, his greatest achievement. They argue forcefully against notions that capitalist globalization was inevitable and beneficial. They document a carefully planned American strategy over decades to augment the already overwhelming control of its government and globalized corporations of the economic destinies of people across the planet. He and Gindin were founders of an organization called Socialist Project that worked to pull together left-wing scholars and trade union activists to examine events and phenomena from a social class perspective and to propose strategies for overcoming corporate control over the destinies of working people.
Keywords: back-to-work legislation; balance of power between labour and capital; class consciousness; collective bargaining legislation; globalization and workers; Jean-Claude Perrot; PC Order 1003; permanent exceptionalism; public sector unions; railway unions; trade unions and politics; Winnipeg General Strike.
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