Good or bad? May 2 catapulted the NDP into second place, Official Opposition, bearing historic gains. Good. But the total seat tally enabled the Conservatives to eke out a parliamentary majority. That’s bad. So what’s the conclusion? Are we in a four-year holding pattern, doomed to witness the slow train wreck of a century of social benefits? Not if we choose to resist.
Actually, those afflicted with a case of post-election blues should take heart. The workers’ movement across the Canadian state has rarely had a better opportunity to seize the time, stop the bleeding, and take charge of the situation. Consider the following:
1. The Harper majority is an artificial product of an undemocratic electoral system. Winning only 39.5% of the votes cast, less than one-quarter of the total electorate, Harper has no mandate to carry out his vicious anti-labour agenda. While his appointment of three defeated Conservative candidates to the Senate shows his undiminished arrogance, Harper is a paper tiger. He can be stopped. Clearly, it will take mass labour economic and political action, starting with active support for the postal workers’ struggle against concessions. But the main point remains: the Tory agenda can be paralyzed.
2. The May 2 federal election put to rest ‘strategic voting’, bourgeois coalition building, and all talk of NDP-Liberal merger. Those examples of blatant class collabortion, which only confuse the issue and divide working people, are off the table for four years, and hopefully forever. But the NDP ‘government in waiting’ must prove that it is up to the task of governing in the interests of the working class, small farmers, oppressed nationalities, women, youths and seniors.
3. Spectacular NDP gains in Quebec are very significant, but very fragile. Quebec nationalist expectations are high. They are echoed by youthful voices among the 59 NDP Quebec MP s. Positive NDP pledges to make French the language of work in federally regulated industries inside Quebec, and to respect a future vote for sovereignty, fueled expectations. Thus, NDP Leader Jack Layton is riding a bull. He may tame it, or it may buck him. Still, the new political situation has erected a bridge between the workers’ movements in both nations. The Canadian Union of Postal Workers’ collective bargaing struggle may be the bellweather of Pan-Canadian workers’ unity against the Canadian capitalist class and their anti-labour agenda.
4. We can replace Labour’s retreat of the past 30 years with mass resistance today to the corporate agenda. Objective conditions for a turnaround are ripe. The main obstacle to the resistance we need is the pro-capitalist leadership of our unions and the NDP. At the top of both organizations is the same group of privileged bureaucrats. They’ve been rowing the boat mostly in one direction – backwards — for over a quarter century. To change course the right wing brass must be removed. For that to happen, for any hope of a change of direction, we need to step up the building of a class struggle opposition inside the unions and the NDP. From a little acorn grows a mighty oak tree.
5. A class struggle opposition is based on a clear programme and a firm set of principles reflecting the concrete needs of the vast majority of the population. The NDP Socialist Caucus, founded in 1997, with over 500 supporters across the country, is based on the Manifesto for a Socialist Canada. It is elaborated and amplified by all the resolutions adopted at its annual conferences over the past 14 years. The SC commitment to fight for public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy, under workers’ and community democratic control, to facilitate the transformation towards green energy efficiency in all areas, from industry and home heating to mass transportation, is a powerful example.
The programme of the Workers’ Solidarity and Union Democracy Coalition, founded in 1991, and re-launched in 2005, provides another good example. It stands for the following: 1. Resist labour concessions and social cutbacks. 2. Support struggles for union democracy, to make unions more accessible, accountable, transparent and participatory. 3. Take back our unions and turn them into fighting organizations. 4. Rely on our own strength, and renew or create our own organizations, from the bottom up, to fight for the interests of working people and against corporate profit and power.
The operating principles to which both Workers’ Solidarity and the NDP Socialist Caucus are committed are basically those of the historic Paris Commune of 1871, the first workers’ government in world history: direct democracy, proportional representation of all currents of opinion, the right of rank and file members to recall and replace elected officials, and the rule that office holders are to be paid no more than those whom they represent.
Not everyone belongs to a union, nor is everyone able to join or organize a union. But all, regardless of citizenship or status, can join the union-based NDP and can support the fight of the Socialist Caucus to turn the NDP sharply to the left. What matters is the process, the struggle itself, not to what degree the party turns left. Most ordinary working people who join the labour-based party do not sign up just to become cheerleaders for the Leader. We join the NDP for the same reason we join unions – to advance our class interests. Without labour, the NDP would not exist. Therefore the party belongs to the working class, not to Thomas Mulcair or Jack Layton, not to Brad Lavigne, not to the Lewis family. The NDP belongs to its dues-payers, to its affiliated unions, to its 100,000 members, to its 4.5 million voters. We simply demand that the NDP serve the interests of its vast social base, not the system of exploitation and oppression that serves a tiny corporate elite. It is the struggle within our unions and within the union-based NDP that will decide the shape of the fight against capitalist austerity and war. The current struggle will decide the overall relationship of class forces.
This is a point to emphasize to our friends across the independent left: It’s time to take a stand, to retire academic abstractions, and to surpass small sideline campaigns. The road to influence the 4.5 million NDP voters lies through struggle against the pro-capitalist labour and NDP leaders in whom millions have illusions. Our task is not to prop up the existing leadership, but to challenge it, especially inside the mass organizations of the working class. Only those mass organizations have the capacity to educate and mobilize millions. We should strive to win those organizations to mass action against the rulers’ attacks and to socialist policies that can give shape to an alternative to the unfolding economic and environmental disaster that is global capitalism.
May 2 ushered in a new situation, brimming with new opportunities that warm the heart of every working person. While the Canadian Labour Congress tops say ‘wait four years to replace the government’, while they amalgamate labour councils to make them even more remote from local unionists, we need not be bound to their prescriptions. When Jack Layton says he wants to be “more about proposition than opposition”, we need not swallow that pill. The task of socialists, radicals and worker militants is to unite behind the postal workers, to support Quebecois and aboriginal demands for national liberation, to demand money for jobs, for green energy conversion, not for jails, jets and imperial wars of occupation.
Together, we can prove that the most right wing government in Canadian history is a paper tiger. We can show that it can be blown away by a strong wave of class struggle. Let’s force the labour leadership to lead the fight, or get the heck out of the way. This entails the construction of a militant, well-organized left wing in the unions and the NDP. The time is now. Join us.
The article above was written by Barry Weisleder.