Category Archives: NDP

NDP Leader Attacks First Nations, Activists

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In a shameful move, the labour-based New Democratic Party in New Brunswick republished an aggressively titled op-ed article on its website, “Don’t Negotiate Till Threats End!”. The article was taken down and replaced by similarly problematic editorial, “Reality Check: The Law is the Law” written by the party leader in the province, Dominic Cardy.

The articles chastised activists who joined a highway blockade with members of Elsipogtog First Nations, trying to stop exploratory drilling on their lands. To Cardy’s credit, he recognizes the problem with relying on the government to safeguard the environment asking “why should we expect them to have the courage to use the law [against the shale gas industry]” (though it’s more likely a question of will rather than courage.)

But in the next paragraph, he puts on his policeman’s hat and gives the reader a stern tautological legal lesson, “Any blockade… must end… because the law is the law. [Activists] have an equal responsibility to stand up against law breaking and vandalism”. He didn’t mention whether he had a plan to crack down on the menace of littering or jay-walking.

Cardy attempts to resolve the cognitive dissonance of respecting the ‘rule of law that can’t be trusted’ by revealing his actual plan to stop shale gas: an NDP government led by him.  The environment is to be saved by electing him as premier, or not at all. Aside from opposing shale gas though, it is difficult to see how the party under his leadership would substantially differ from the current regime. Cardy is a proponent of the right wing “Third Way” movement within the Socialist International. He took the lead in pushing for a lesser role for labour in the federal party, and looks up to imperialist war criminal Tony Blair.

This ahistorical diatribe is especially disappointing, coming from an NDP leader because it betrays the party’s own history. Participants in the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike, which brought the city to a grinding halt, likely wouldn’t have cared much for Cardy’s “the law is the law” attitude when they were savagely attacked by the police and thrown in prison. One of those participants, J.S. Woodsworth, later went on to become the first leader of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, predecessor of the modern day NDP.

This identity crisis is not new for the party, but it is accelerating at an alarming rate. As capitalism descends deeper into crisis, it’s contradictions, which are fundamental features of it’s political reality, are highlighted by statements such as this. At a time when workers and the growing underclass are losing more and more at the expense of big business, the platform and actions of the labour bureaucrats and ruling class politicians who purport to represent the workers’ interests are getting more and more watered down and lacklustre.

Ultimately, it is not solely the fault of these social democrats that the party agenda is more and more accommodating to the status quo. The demands of workers can be advanced only when workers themselves raise them. In building unions, activists have created institutions capable of fighting for their interests, but the task of leading that fight can not be successfully delegated.  Left to its own devices, the labour bureaucracy develops petty interests of its own, putting their jobs and privileges above all else.

The NDP can be a vehicle for change and a voice for radical populist movements like Idle No More and the campaign against environmental degradation — but not by trusting politicians to take care of business. The task of achieving basic change can be fulfilled only by applying continuous pressure from the bottom up — by the people whose lives are directly affected by the plunder of global capital. We need a radical labour movement driven by, and for workers! To move forward, are obliged to struggle against the alienating effects of bureaucracy, especially in the NDP and the labour movement.

When will they ever learn?

Once again, the leadership of the Toronto and York Region Labour Council and of several key union affiliates, is taking workers down the primrose path of liberal, middle class politics towards the October 2014 municipal election.
Rather than host a convention of labour activists and members of the labour-based New Democratic Party across Toronto and York Region to adopt platform policies and to select candidates to fight for a Labour City Hall, we see a relapse to the tactics that failed us in 2010.
The “Municipal Political Action Conference”, set for November 16, 2013 at 89 Chestnut Street, is “designed for everyone who plans to get involved in the 2014 Municipal/School Board elections”. That means regardless anyone’s policies and regardless their links to big business parties, like the Liberal Party, which bear responsibility for cutbacks, privatizing public services, giving tax breaks to the rich, and curtailing the right to strike.
It is quite revealing that the “Guest Speaker” at the Conference is Jeremy Bird, former National Field Director for the 2012 re-election Campaign of President Barack Obama. Obama is the chief executive tool of Wall Street who bailed out the world’s biggest criminal corporations. Obama wages endless wars of occupation around the world, propping up racist, sexist, homophobic rule abroad and at home.
What about Jeremy Bird? He was the target of a high profile protest, which forced him to cut short his speech at the NDP federal convention in Montreal in April 2013. It is shameful, and sadly indicative, that Toronto and York Region Labour Council officials would invite this ‘field director’ for the pro-austerity, big business, drone-wars regime in Washington.
The lessons of the failed David Miller mayorship and the feckless 2010 ‘labour’ municipal campaign are there for all to see. On the reverse side of this leaflet, read the analysis issued by Socialist Action in the immediate aftermath of the entirely preventable Rob Ford victory.
Instead of a multi-class, liberal smorgasbord of candidates and policies, labour needs an election team that demands: free public transit, a major expansion of the rapid transit system, reverse the cutbacks and privatization, build quality social housing to curb homelessness, and to fund this agenda, tax the developers, big business, the banks, religious institutions, and the rich.
stubbornRemember the old adage: The first time you fool me, shame on you. The second time you fool me, shame on me.
Don’t be fooled again. Protest the invitation of US Democratic Party imperialist hack Jeremy Bird. No support for Liberal, Conservative, Green Party, or ‘independent’ candidates. Turn the Political Action Conference into a policy-making, candidate selection gathering aimed at fighting for, and winning a Workers’ Government at City Hall in 2014.
Join Socialist Action / Ligue pour l’Action socialiste
visit: www.socialistaction.ca phone: 416-535-8779
What led to Rob Ford’s win?
The ‘realistic left’ at Toronto City Hall blew it. Thanks to them, the municipal election was a write-off.
By pandering to big developers and the rich, by targeting civic workers instead of tax-withholding banks, by hiking user fees (and politicians’ perks) while slashing community services, David Miller and company pushed tens of thousands of working people into the boa constrictor-like embrace of Rob Ford and George Smitherman.
Joe Pantalone, the hapless apologist for the Liberal-NDP coalition government, Joe ‘Pants’, the Bob Rae of City Council, alienated his base and deprived voters of a principled, independent working class alternative to the big business right wing, right from the start.
Many unionists and progressives in Canada’s biggest city were stunned by the scope of the victory of right wing populist Councillor Rob Ford in the race for mayor. Equally disturbing, an increased number of Ford-like labour-haters captured seats on Toronto City Council on October 25 — possibly enough to fashion a voting majority to implement an agenda of severe social and culture cuts, plus privatization and contracting-out measures.
The turnout of 52 per cent of eligible voters, compared to 39 per cent in 2006, rewarded candidates who promised “change”. Ford received 47 per cent of the votes cast. Former Ontario Liberal Health Minister George Smitherman, running on a similar programme of austerity and privatization, got 36 per cent.
Deputy Mayor Joe Pantalone, propped up by a disintegrating band of labour tops and fellow Councillors, came third with 12 per cent.  Pantalone helped to steer the informal Liberal Party-New Democratic Party coalition that ran Toronto City Hall for seven years. That regime not only raised taxes and increased user fees while reducing public services. It forced 30,000 municipal workers into a bitter 40 day strike over wages and pensions. It abused workers and whetted the appetite of the corporate elite for more labour concessions.
A stormy period of clashes over the fate of city jobs and services is now in store. Hopefully, there will be mass resistance to the corporate agenda. If there is, it may hasten the realization that unions must break with the Liberals and fight for an up-front NDP-Labour slate of candidates committed to socialist policies prior to the next municipal vote in 2014.
How can this be done? Long before the next city election, after voters have digested the bitter fruit of opportunism, it will be time to return to the future. Labour and the NDP should convene a broad, mass, participatory convention to fashion a socialist platform and select candidates who can be held accountable to it, to run for all municipal offices. Just as the NDP and labour did in the 1960s and 70s, before the left-populism of Sewell and Crombie dulled our senses and muddled the class line at City Hall, a workers’ slate can be built again.
Union activists: Demand that independent working class party politics be reintroduced to the municipal arena. Fight for electoral reform, including preferential ballots.Give workers a real choice. Otherwise, the tragedy of October 25 will become a permanent farce – at the expense of the working class and our urban environment.

Behind the NDP disaster in Nova Scotia

by George Baron
    People talk about the “orange wave” that swept Nova Scotia in 2009, carrying provincial New Democratic Party leader Darrell Dexter to government. It’s generally agreed that voters were fed up with the quality of governance provided by the Liberals and Conservatives, over many years, and decided to give the NDP a try. There was a mandate for change and change was what was promised.
    The “orange wave” manifested as 31 NDP seats to 9 Liberal seats. Now in 2013 there is a huge reversal of fortunes with 33 Liberal seats to 7 NDP seats. (When its vote plunged by 18.4 per cent, the NDP became the first governing party not to win a second term in Nova Scotia history. – editor)
    Voters chose to return to the known and to abandon the NDP. It is my opinion that the downfall of Dexter’s NDP government’s was that it did not change the status quo. The Nova Scotia NDP government over the last four years was not particularly bad. There were no major scandals. There was reasonable fiscal responsibility. If it had been a government running under a Conservative banner, I suspect it might have been re-elected. But the NDP was supposed to be different. They were punished for not living up to their ideals.
The loss of the October 8 election does not just put the NDP back where it was. There has been severe damage to the NDP brand. Since 2009 core NDP supporters have been steadily abandoning ship.
    Speaking of abandoning ships, I should tell the story of the cancelling of the international ferry between Yarmouth and Maine which happened early in the NDP’s term. This was triggered by the Harper Conservative government withdrawing the federal funding. But it was the provincial NDP that took all the blame. The NDP’s decision, that alone it couldn’t afford the subsidy (equivalent to $600 per car that used it), was sound enough, but how the cancellation was handled was a public relations disaster.
    Across the board, support for the NDP plunged. Why?
    First, the NDP wasn’t different. The MLA expense scandal found at least one criminal in each party. The NDP broke the election promise to not raise the HST (provincial sales tax). The issue here is not fiscal; it is about saying one thing and doing another. Darrell Dexter, personally, fed the “culture of entitlement”, holding on to the idea that the public should pay his fees to the N.S. bar association, a little too long. The public and NDPers in particular, had been looking for a new politics; not politics as usual. There were too many slogans; “Ships Start Here”, “Better Care Sooner”, “Growing the Economy”. If the government were really getting results they wouldn’t need to advertise to convince the public of their effectiveness.
    Second, Dexter appeared to be a one man show. When he excluded (the MLA and renowned progressive environmental activist) Howard Epstein from his cabinet it was a sign that he didn’t want to share power or entertain different views. For those of us on the left in the NDP, it was ominous. In my opinion, the most shiny star in caucus was the earnest and diligent Graham Steele. When he left his post as Finance Minister it was another sign. It was the beginning of the end.dexter-toon
    Third, the NDP government managed to alienate every group on the left. If you were a peace activist you could hardly warm up to growing the economy by building warships. If you were an environmentalist, you had concerns with a government that wanted to grow the economy with wind farms, mink farms, fish farms, and spreading Halifax’s sewage on regular farms, withoutenough attention being given to the down-side of industrializing everything. If you were a unionist you were appalled at the treatment of the school teachers and the paramedics, to name only two examples. If you were in a minority group you had concerns. Acadians (a French-speaking minority) lost their protected ridings (where they constituted the majority). The government response to the past abuses at the “Home for the Coloured” was one of trying to avoid responsibility rather than showing human compassion. If you were a student or an Occupier you felt invisible. If you were a socialist you couldn’t understand all the tax dollars being given to corporations.
    One could argue that in today’s world, which is in fact controlled by the corporations, governments have to make concessions to attract jobs to their jurisdiction. However this NDP government took it to the extreme, so much so that, ironically, the Liberals and Conservatives ran on platforms saying they opposed the practice. Is this how we socialists intended to change the system? The one example of “corporate welfare” that took the prize was the Nova Scotia NDP government providing a non-repayable loan to Jim Irving, the richest person in the Maritimes, after he won a three billion dollar federal contract to build warships. Did he need the “start-up” funds? Would no one else lend him money? Would he have taken his ship-building facilities out of Halifax, if we didn’t pay up? I don’t think so.
    NDP supporters have been alienated. This has led to a decline in membership renewals and a decline in donations. People, like myself, who used to ask for renewals and donations have stopped asking. I am embarrassed. After the 2009 election, with the excitement of a new NDP government, I recruited three municipal politicians to my local provincial constituency association’s executive. Any one of them would have been a good NDP candidate with their proven electability, but by 2013 they were all gone. I don’t blame them. Maybe none of them wanted to be an MLA, but they all knew the NDP brand would not help them, if they did. The candidate that did end up running had no NDP background, nor what I would call NDP values.
    This was an anomaly. In other provincial ridings the candidate was more likely to be a party stalwart, a senior citizen, someone who offered to put his name on the ballot to save the party’s face. I hammered in a few signs for one of those party stalwarts, to help him save face.        
    One of the very few senior, and experienced organizers in West Nova told me, “I know I am in a dysfunctional marriage, but I’m staying in it for the kids”.
    I’m not at all sure this has been good for the kids.

George Barron lives in Bear River, Nova Scotia, and was the NDP federal candidate in West Nova constituency in the 2008 and 2011 federal elections. He is a member of the NDP Socialist Caucus federal steering committee.

Film Review: The Spirit of ’45

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by Barry Wesleder
About thirty-five people attended the SA Rebel Films screening of the Ken Loach film “Spirit of ’45” at OISE U of Toronto on October 4.  Most stayed for a lively discussion on the origins and present threats to the welfare state, and the need for socialist transformation of society.
Below is the text of the presentation I made on the subject, following the screening.
    The outstanding English film and television director, Ken Loach, was born in June 1936. He is known for his naturalistic, social realist directing style and for his socialist politics, which are evident in his film treatment of social issues such as homelessness (Cathy Come Home) and labour rights (Riff-Raff and The Navigators).
    His best known films are:
    Ken Loach was asked after the screening in Cardiff why he made the film. I want people to be angry¨ he said. “This is not about history. It’s about the fact that society doesn’t have to be this way. We can seize control of the economy, protect the environment, share out the work. You can only plan what you own collectively for the benefit of all! Another world is possible. My god, we have to change it.”
    The film shows the contrast between the poverty of the 1930s and the hopes and aspirations of the working class that there should be no return to these conditions. One contributor from Liverpool described his living conditions before the war, with all the children getting into a bed every night which was crawling with vermin. The happiest moment in his life was moving into a new council house.
    With the 50% increase in homeless families now and the attacks on housing benefits, it shows why the mass house building programme following the war was so important. In Wales some of the temporary accommodation, the prefabs, are still being used.
Tony Mulhearn, one of the Liverpool 47 councillors who stood up to the Thatcher government, was one of the film’s interviewees. He said what politicians should be doing now to improve working class people’s lives. Liverpool city council in the 80s showed that the Spirit of ’45 was not a distant historical event but an example of what working class people can achieve, tangibly with bricks and mortar, when we fight together.
    The film does not fully convey a sense of the mass revolutionary wave involving demobilized soldiers who were determined that after defeating fascism they should build a better world free from squalor and poverty. The 1945 Labour government was elected on a wave of confidence and pushed much further to the left than politicians expected.
    The ruling class was terrified that workers would take power in Britain and fundamentally change society. So the rulers conceded unprecedented reforms: the nationalisation of gas, electricity, coal and transport and the creation of the NHS. All these made a massive difference to people’s lives and showed the advantage and logic of providing services, utilities and transport planned on a nationwide basis.
    The creation of the welfare state and nationalisation at a time when Britain was bankrupt shows what can be done now to stop all the cuts and invest in jobs and services. The ruling class can always find money when it is necessary to protect their system.
The film clearly shows the limitations of the way the nationalisation was done, imposing tyrannical bosses and with no workers’ control. There were also concessions made to create the NHS, leaving private healthcare in place and “stuffing the consultants’ mouths with gold”.
    The creation of the welfare state was a big step forward, but only a glimpse of what could be achieved with workers’ control of society.
    The film exposes the current lack of a mass political alternative standing up for the working class. It lets the audience draw the conclusion that a new political voice is needed. Loach was very clear in the discussions after the screenings that a new political formation representing the working class is needed, and that unions should stop funding New Labour.
    Unlike nearly all other film directors, Ken is not just a film maker. He is somebody who intervenes regularly in the political debate and supports real struggles. His only rival might be Michael Moore, but with all due respect, the latter’s politics are less developed.  Many filmmakers make films with progressive messages that inspire people to think critically about the world, but they usually keep far away from the messy world of politics.  Apart from anything else such engagement can make their next film’s funding problematic.
    For this film Loach obviously worked in a collaborative way with many experienced political activists’ nearly all of whom are clearly to the left of New Labour.  With them he developed an articulated campaign for getting the biggest possible reaction to the movie.  He created a brilliant website packed with educational material that is understandable and accessible to the general public, students, teachers and activists. His media promotion was successful with appearances on Question Time, Newsnight, Morning TV and radio as well as the Evening Standard. Then there was the launch in 40 cinemas with a live Q and A session. He put himself forward as a promoter of the campaign for the June 22nd People’s Assembly against Austerity which is almost a political sequel to the film. He encouraged people to distribute material at all the screenings. Finally he made a public appeal for a new Left Party which 2000 people signed up to join after one week. Although this call is not crudely put into the film, it is a logical conclusion to the points made by most of the participants.
    The film is also politically astute in the way it reaches out to people who have different judgements on the utility of the current Labour party. It is the opposite of sectarian. It could easily have shown more explicitly how the whole way in which the welfare state was set up was a classic example of the limits of bureaucratic social democracy, that the rule of capital was shaken a little but not really challenged, indeed that capitalism itself benefited from the planned rebuilding of the infrastructure in those years. He could also have explained in more detail how the lack of independent working class self-organisation meant the welfare state was never really owned or run by working people.  Consequently, given the difficult economic conditions, it was easy for the Tories to return in the next general election, since the Labour government was identified with the continued rationing, a certain bureaucratic authoritarianism, and with austerity.
    Yet that would have been a different film for a different purpose or period. Today many of the fortresses of the labour movement have been dismantled through deindustrialisation and defeat. Union membership is half what it was in the 1970s and we know what happened to the Labour Party. In many ways this is a rebuilding phase of the labour movement. A large part of the population is unaware of the significance of the founding of the Welfare state. People under the age of 40 cannot even remember when electricity, gas, coal, rail, iron and steel, road haulage, telephones and so on were publicly owned. Several generations have been raised on the Thatcher and Blairite ideology that public sector equals wasteful and inefficient, and the private market and the entrepreneur are effective and dynamic. The current crisis is shredding some of those illusions, but vivid lessons from history put some flesh on a possible alternative. People need to grasp the fundamental difference between the Spirit of ’45 and the neo-liberal ideology and offensive led by Thatcher, and continued by Blair. So this is the right film for now.
    Indeed the strength of the film is the way it shows how government policies and projects such as the NHS or house building go to the heart of people’s lives to health, shelter, security. Key statements about the reforms are interspersed with wonderfully edited interviews with working people who explain how they slept five to a flea-ridden bed, or how profit in the mines led workers not to shore up the tunnels resulting in needless deaths.  A doctor recounts how after the formation of the NHS the women he was visiting still could not understand that he would be able to see the other member of her family who was ill because it was now all free of charge. A South Wales miner movingly talks of the death of his mother in childbirth through lack of care. Anger, hope and celebration are all there, but also some bitterness is expressed at the limits of the change where, for example, the brutal private coal managers are recycled into the leadership of the National Coal Board.
    The visual documentary  evidence came from old newsreels and official government film extracts which were edited together in a fresh way and included some elements most people have not seen, such as Churchill being booed at an open air meeting by Labour supporters. Interestingly, many of the key official propaganda wartime films were made by Communist Party or Left Labour people working in that unit. There was little local mobilisation for the Welfare state changes in terms of committees or workers organising in those sectors. However the officially sanctioned civics meetings organised in the armed forces in the final year of the war, and while people were waiting for demobilisation, did provide an opportunity for mass political debate. Left-leaning servicemen often pushed the discussion on support for no return to the 1930s and the need to win the peace with social improvements. An example is shown in the film. Keep in mind that the 50,000 strong Communist Party was at its height at this stage and worked to push Labour to the left. Russia retained a certain prestige among workers and reinforced popular support for the social efficiency of planning.  People also linked victory over the Nazis to the government direction of the economy and of rationing. 
    So the film shows the material underpinning of the Spirit of 45 that working together and planning could bring results. There was a temporary coalescence between a sense of nationalism and socially progressive measures. Of course nationalism in an imperialist state has a deeply corrosive effect, and the horrid crimes of Stalinism utterly destroyed the Communist Party.
Overlaid on the images from time to time were quotes from Labour party manifestos or its programme. These statements could easily be rallying calls for the struggle against austerity today. But Labour has long since abandoned such positions. Under Blair it deleted Clause 4, its pledge to being a socialist party that aims to socialize the means of production.
    A final component of the film is the analysis made by writers, historians, economists and veteran workers’ movement activists such as John Rees, James Meadway, Ralphie Dos Santos, Dot Gibson, Alan Thornett and Tony Richardson.  This allowed Loach to connect the historical story to the current crisis and to possible political alternatives. Otherwise the documentary could have become an exercise in nostalgia.
Ken Loach has regularly managed to produce works of art for TV or the cinema which are engaging narratives. However, unlike most film directors, he expresses working class lives and struggles in an unsentimental but positive way.
    What about the Labour Party today?
    It held its annual convention in Brighton just days ago. Labour Party Leader Ed Milliband made a rhetorical deke to the left to recover his working class base. According to the Guardian newspaper, “he fleshed out his attacks on ‘predatory capitalism’ and the ‘race to the bottom’ with a string of signature commitments: a freeze in electricity prices, breakup of the energy monopolies, abolition of the bedroom tax, a tougher minimum wage, 200,000 new homes a year by 2020, extra childcare, and a switch of tax cuts from big to small business.”
    But how believable are those promises in light of New Labour’s sins, including bank deregulation and privatization, and waging illegal wars?
    Take into consideration the speech to convention of Ed Balls, Labour’s shadow finance minister. It was reminiscent of classic Gordon Brown, from his pledge to use a higher bank levy to fund childcare to his ‘iron’ commitments to match George Osborne’s 2015-2016 current spending limits. Balls even promised to use the proceeds from selling RBS and Lloyds to pay down debt, in other words, privatizing banks to appease bond markets.
But that wasn’t the mood of Labour’s delegates. They gave a standing ovation to Unite leader Len McCluskey when he called on the party to stand up for organized labour, and they voted overwhelmingly for the lifting of the public sector pay cap. Balls and Milliband support the cap on wages.
    The Labour Party voted to re-nationalize the railways, and if it’s sold, to re-nationalize the postal service. But party leaders said, “That’s not our policy”.
    Have we seen this kind of behaviour in the New Democratic Party? A disregard by leaders for adopted policy? Violation of party principles and trampling of the interests of the working class? Have we seen efforts to remove all references to socialism, and to distance the party from the unions? Interference from the top in the local candidate selection process?
    We have seen all these things, and more.
    The difference in Canada is two-fold: 1. the NDP has never formed a federal government, and 2. unlike in Britain and Europe, the forces to the left of the NDP in Canada are miniscule and incapable of forming a significant revolutionary party.
    But what we have in common is this. We have a capitalism in decline, an ongoing global economic and environmental crisis, and both the need and the opportunity to advance a compelling socialist alternative. The “caring capitalism” that Milliband and Ed Broadbent propose is like the Arabian phoenix. It has never been seen. And it never will be. The system that puts profits before people must go, root and branch.
    A great way in Canada to advance the socialist alternative is to join the NDP Socialist Caucus. The SC has a higher media profile than does the rest of the left combined. The SC has chalked up wins. The SC won the NDP to a ‘Canada Out of Afghanistan’ policy. It helped to generate a major debate in the NDP on public funding of Catholic schools. It prevented the complete removal of socialism from the party constitution. It won support for Quebec students and the fight for free post-secondary education. It helped Linda McQuaig to win the NDP nomination in Toronto Centre.
    And an even better way to advance a democratic and socialist future is to join Socialist Action. No organization is more active, every day of the year, in fighting for union democracy, against labour concessions, against poverty and war, for women’s and LGBT liberation, and for a cooperative commonwealth. A good time to join us is tonight.

Free PDF is available: Concessions No More! Fight to Defeat Austerity

Below is a copy of “Concessions No More! Fight to Defeat Austerity”, a collection of talks presented at Socialism 2013, the annual international educational conference hosted by Socialist Action / Ligue pour l’Action socialiste, held May 10-12, 2013 at the University of Toronto.

socialism conference book final