Tag Archives: Ontario Federation of Labour

OFL opts for Political Action

by Julius Arscott *

The Ontario Federation of Labour convention, held in Toronto, November 20 -24, saw several large affiliates that withheld dues for four years rejoin the House of Labour in Canada’s most populous province.  The dues strike by OPSEU, SEIU and ONA, actuated by a factional battle between conservative union bureaucrats and the progressive past president of the OFL, Sid Ryan, crippled the federation, forcing it to sell its headquarters building. The right wing coup replaced CUPE’s Ryan with UNIFOR’s Chris Buckley.

Many workplace and equity issues were discussed at the convention, but the OFL brass exerted every effort to keep ‘divisive’ issues off the floor.  Several resolutions submitted in support of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against the Israeli apartheid state, as well as for the eco-socialist LEAP Manifesto, were buried at the back of the resolutions book.  Convention guest speakers included former Ontario NDP leader Stephen Lewis, current ONDP leader Andrea Horwath, and Black Lives Matter activist Desmond Cole.

The legislation that broke the community college teachers’ strike, passed in the Ontario Legislature on the eve of the convention, hung over the proceedings like a foul cloak. The teachers’ battle against precarious work and for workplace democracy evoked great admiration and support, tinged by bitterness at the outcome.  Outrageously, at a march of a few hundred of the 1,100 delegates led by Buckley to Queens Park there was no mention of the strikebreaking legislation; only praise for the labour law reform Bill 148.  Important gains in the form of better union organizing rules, and a rise to a $15/hour minimum wage by 2019, cannot justify turning a blind eye to Liberal government strike breaking and the lasting blow it deals to collective bargaining.

Try as it did, the OFL leadership was unable to prevent a debate on a motion to endorse the union-based New Democratic Party in the next provincial election. The amendment to the official Action Plan carried, but was challenged the very next day. The challenge, orchestrated by the pro-Liberal right wing, and ironically backed by supporters of the Communist Party, was soundly defeated, bucking the trend of so-called ‘strategic voting’, a not so modern version of Samuel Gompers’ “reward your friends, punish your enemies” brand of labour opportunism.  The weakening of the party of the unions only fostered illusions in the Liberal side of Bay Street, and served to reinforce the austerity agenda of the state. The role of socialists and labour militants within the NDP is not to be cheerleaders, but to fight for the interests of the working class against capitalism and its labour lieutenants.

A CUPE rank and file activist, Barry Conway, ran for OFL President against Chris Buckley, on an stridently anti-austerity and anti-fascist platform. Conway gained a respectable 18% of the ballots cast despite the lack of an organized effort.  It was a sign of a growing rejection of status quo unionism in Ontario.

At a lunch break, the leftist Workers Action Movement hosted a well attended public forum titled “How to Fight Austerity – lessons from the College faculty strike”.  Guest speakers came from the college academic division, as well as from UNIFOR and Latin America.  During the entire convention, Socialist Action sold dozens of copies of its press, and staffed a well stocked literature table which attracted interested delegates from across the labour movement.

An emergency resolution, reaffirming organized labour’s right to collectively bargain and strike, was passed on the last day of the convention.  Mike Palecek, President of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, said that labour should be prepared to defy anti-worker legislation and build the general strike which is needed to defeat the bosses’ strikebreaking, austerity agenda.

* Julius Arscott, a member of the Executive Board of the Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union, was a delegate to the OFL Convention.

Sid Ryan – Victim of a Bureaucratic Coup

by Julius Arscott

The President of the Ontario Federation of Labour, announced on September 22 that he would not seek re-election after 3 terms in office. Sid Ryan, 63, is considered by many to be the most progressive leader of the Ontario House of Labour in generations. His legacy includes: active international solidarity, a willingness to speak directly to rank and file members over the heads of the affiliated unions, and mobilizing tens of thousands of workers for labour solidarity rallies across the province. Continue reading Sid Ryan – Victim of a Bureaucratic Coup

Toronto Rally Defends Postal Services

IMG_6210Over 400 people rallied on Saturday, September 20 outside the uptown Toronto constituency office of Conservative Finance Minister Joe Oliver to demand a halt to Tory and Canada Post Corporation plans to eliminate home mail delivery and set higher prices for postage.
Participants came from as far away as Vernon, B.C. and Charlottetown, P.E.I. They included retired auto workers from Oshawa, and a group of posties who hired a bus in Hamilton, Ontario.

Elizabeth Byce - Chairperson
Elizabeth Byce – Chairperson

Rally chair Elizabeth Byce, a proud retired member of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, past Secretary of the Toronto and York Region Labour Council and a leading member of Socialist Action, welcomed the crowd. In the breezy, warm sunshine she led-off the proceedings with a few chants: “1,2,3,4, mail delivery door-to-door, 5,6,7,8, stop increasing postal rates”, “Stop the Cuts at Canada Post”, and “They say Cutback. We say Fightback”.
“I say to Finance Minister Joe Oliver, you can hide, but you cannot escape our anger, and you cannot avoid our determination to hold you and your government accountable for cuts to the postal service that Canadians hold dear. Keep your bloody hands off our public services!”, Byce told the gathering.
“Many organizations have endorsed this rally. They are listed on the newspaper ads and the leaflets you’ve seen. New endorsers include: the Workers’ Action Centre, York Region Catholic Teachers, United Steel Workers – Toronto Area Council, and the Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP). We thank them all.”

She then introduced the rally speakers as follows:

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Denis Lemelin, President of CUPW

“Denis Lemelin, the leader of the fight to save vital postal services and good jobs, is the President of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers. His involvement in the union began in 1979 when he started as a postal clerk in Sherbrooke, Quebec.

Marie Clark-Walker, VP CLC
Marie Clark-Walker, VP CLC

“Marie Clark-Walker comes out of CUPE-Ontario. She celebrates her Jamaican heritage, and is a Vice President of the Canadian Labour Congress.
“Sid Ryan, President of the Ontario Federation of Labour, is a past-President of CUPE-Ontario, and is former Ontario Tory Leader Tim Hudak’s worst enemy.
“Sharon DeSoussa is the Regional Executive Vice-President in Ontario for the Public Service Alliance of Canada.
“Barry Weisleder is the person who organized the rally from scratch. He is a teacher, union activist, journalist and the federal secretary of Socialist Action / Ligue pour l’Action socialiste. (See the text of his speech below.)
“Mark Brown is the Education and Organizing Officer for the Metro Toronto Region of CUPW, and is also a member of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists.

“Hockey has its Hall of Fame, and so does Labour.  Buzz Hargrove is a past President of the Canadian Auto Workers. He speaks today on behalf of Unifor, Canada’s newest and biggest private sector union.

“The Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union, which generously contributed to the publicity tools that made this rally a success, is represented by a Vice President of OPSEU, Myles Magner.

Fred Hahn - President CUPE Ontario
Fred Hahn – President CUPE Ontario

“The Canadian Union of Public Employees in Ontario played a key role in promoting the protest. Fred Hahn is the President of CUPE-Ontario, and a long-time fighter for LGBT rights and dignity.

“Liz Rowley is the Ontario leader of the Communist Party and a former school board trustee.

“Carolyn Egan is President of the United Steetworkers’ Toronto Area Council and a member of the Toronto and York Region Labour Council executive.

“Chris Clay is a leader of CUPW in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.

“CUPW Union Rep Mike Palecek, based in Ottawa, is here today to sing his new anti-austerity, anti-Stephen Harper song, which debuted on Parliament Hill at the People’s Social Forum rally on August 21.”
The rally chair reminded everyone that the campaign to Save Canada Post continues, and called on people to attend a meeting of the Toronto Organizing Committee to plan the next steps.
Extensive coverage of the Toronto protest featured prominently on that day’s 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. news broadcast of CITY-TV.

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“We Can Win This Issue”

The following is the text of the remarks of rally organizer Barry Weisleder:

“Sisters and brothers, it’s great to see such a large crowd here on this beautiful day. Did you enjoy the summer? I did. I spent much of it organizing this rally, and I’d like to tell you why.

“Firstly, I’m sick and tired of Tory lies. Canada Post is profitable. And it could be even more profitable if we had postal banking. We need good jobs. Killing over 8,000 letter carrier jobs makes no sense — unless you are a corporate vulture planning to dine on the dismembered parts of a vital public service.
Secondly, I love the postal workers’ union. The first picket line I walked was with posties in 1972 when I was still a student. CUPW is a militant democratic union – one of the best. It has always led the way. With a wildcat strikein ’65 it won the right to collective bargaining for all public sector workers. It won big wage increases with strikes and walkouts in the early 70s. It gained job security in the ’70s the face of new technology. In 1981 it struck to win maternity
leave for its members, a gain that spread to all organized workers. CUPW has been in the forefront of solidarity campaigns with workers’ struggles, at home and abroad, for generations. That’s why it has legions of allies.
Now is the time to returnthat solidarity, and to stopthe onslaught against public services and workers’ rights. It is also a golden opportunity to boot the Harper Conservatives from office, and to bust up the bosses’ offensive.
That brings me to the third reason. We can win this issue. How do I know? Look at the doctor’s note fiasco. Deepak Chopra made that brainless suggestion because he and Harper are on the defensive.
“They’re feeling the pressure. The plan to terminate home mail delivery is possibly the most unpopular policy of the Tory government. But it’s tied to many others. Like undermining pensions and E.I. Gutting health and safety in the work place. Promoting dirty oil pipelines. Plundering aboriginal lands. Victimizing migrant workers. Sending troops to Iraq. Backing the seige of Gaza. Giving tax breaks to big corporations. Watching our cities descend into the despair of grid-lock and homelessness.
We in Socialist Action believe that the common denominator of global social misery is the destructive and dying capitalist disorder.
There’s a funny saying: “Capitalism is just a phase we’re going through.” Unfortunately, this phase is killing the planet and its inhabitants. Its stale date is well over a century old. We need ways to break the grip of the 0.1%.
The fight to keep our valued postal services, is just such a way. This issue is Harper’s achilles heel. If, together, we can drive this campaign forward, there’s no telling what we can achieve.
“We can bring down the Tories. We can restore and expand public services. Broaden the battle for social equality and a genuine economic democracy. And perhaps, we can shake this rotten system to its core, and bring to birth a cooperative commonwealth in our time. Let’s make the most of it. Let’s fight to win, in solidarity.”

The Ontario election and the future of the NDP

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by Barry Weisleder
Conservative leader Tim Hudak got exactly what he deserved. On June 12 Ontario voters rejected his plan to eliminate 100,000 public sector jobs and to gut the unions.
For the most part, labour’s campaign to stop Hudak worked. The Tories were trounced at the polls, reduced to 28 seats and 31 per cent of the ballots cast. Hudak announced he’d step down when his party picks a replacement leader. But members of his caucus forced him to quit sooner. It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy!
However, this anti-Hudak sentiment translated into a Liberal majority. It’s hard to celebrate four more years of Bay Street’s preferred party. It’s hard to celebrate an electoral system that rewards a party that got less than 39 per cent of the votes cast, only about 19 per cent of the eligible electorate, with a majority of seats (58 of 107) in the Ontario Legislature.
The union-based New Democratic Party, on the other hand, lost the little power it had – despite increasing its vote share by 1 per cent (to 24 per cent) and retaining a seat total of 21. It would have done better had it pulled the plug on Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne one year earlier. But the NDP did manage to pick up seats and consolidate its hold in the areas hardest hit by recession. In St. Catherines, in Hamilton (although NDP Leader Andrea Horwath did lose votes in her own riding), in London, Niagara, Oshawa and Windsor Essex regions the party had seat gains or vote increases. Still, the NDP lost three seats and major ground in Toronto.
The voter turnout was barely 51 per cent, a three per cent improvement from the 2011 provincial election, but a dismal result by any standard.
Key to the disappointment was the NDP’s feckless effort. Worse than losing ‘an electoral gamble’, Andrea Horwath waged the worst NDP campaign since Bob Rae attempted to defend his infamous Social Contract in 1995.
Horwath had no mandate to veer to the right of the Liberal Party in a vain attempt to appeal to 20120624-092713-gConservative supporters and the business class. She had no mandate to abandon the fight for social justice in favour of a crass appeal to consumerism.
The NDP platform emphasized “making life more affordable” by removing the HST from electricity bills, reducing car insurance rates by 15%, opening up a few more child care spaces, shortening hospital wait times, and offering a mere $1 increase in the hourly minimum wage. At the same time, Horwath campaigned to continue the practice of bribing big private corporations to create jobs – without demanding any public ownership or democratic control of state investment.
Horwath projected a small increase in corporate taxation, but no plan to conscript the hidden, un-taxed billions of dollars – what a former head of the Bank of Canada calls ‘dead Capital’. That means the NDP proposed no way to fund a serious assault on poverty, on homelessness, or to end the deeping crises in public transit, education and health care.
Horwath and her strategists said nothing about phasing out nuclear power plants, stopping Line 9, satisfying the just claims of indigenous peoples, curtailing state surveillance, and terminating police repression of the kind that was unleashed during the G-20 Summit in Toronto. There was not even a hint that the problems faced today by the vast majority of Ontarions are rooted in the decaying and increasingly destructive capitalist system — much less that the solution is socialist democracy.
The ONDP Leader campaigned on ‘integrity’. But she failed to reduce her own democratic deficit. She ignored a party convention decision to be tougher on the Ontario Liberal budget of 2012/13. In fact, on her watch, party conventions provide less time for policy debate. And Horwath’s Election Planning Committee undemocratically prevents leftists from being NDP candidates.
o-KATHLEEN-WYNNE-TIM-HUDAK-facebookWhile it is gratifying that the Progressive Conservatives lost big time, it is clear that the capitalist austerity agenda continues vigorously under Premier Wynne. Remember, Wynne bragged during the TV leaders’ debate that she had implemented “80 per cent of the Drummond Report” — a harsh austerity plan. Behind Wynne’s affable smile, the locomotive of the rulers’ public sector wage freeze, social cutbacks, 3Ps, and privatization remains firmly on track.
Corporate Ontario found a way to sanitize its brutal anti-working class agenda by hiding it behind the ‘progressive’ veneer of the province’s first female Premier, also Canada’s first lesbian Premier.
Now New Democrats, labour unionists, feminists, LGBTQ folks, environmentalists, socialists and social justice advocates must fight to take the NDP from the latter-day Blairites, and re-direct the party to lead the battle against capitalist austerity, and for socialist solutions to the mounting problems we face.
That starts with the demand that Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath resign immediately. It’s time for a full review of the party’s leadership and political direction, leading up to its November 14-16 convention in Toronto.
The question of Horwath’s future as ONDP leader is posed daily in the mass media. The Socialist Caucus did not initiate this question, but it does have the opportunity to rally opinion behind a concrete proposal. Robin Sears and Brian Topp have written articles in defense of Horwath. Dave Cooke, former NDP Education Minister, Gerry Caplan, Paul Ferriera, Michael Prue, even Rosario Marchese have sharply criticized her. For socialists, the main issue is not personality; it is the need for a full review of the leadership and political direction of the party.
But how do we get it?
This is not an abstract matter. A full review is triggered by a vote of non-confidence in the leader. A confidence vote occurs at every party convention. If even 35% of the delegates vote for a leadership review (that is, if less than 65% vote to support the current leader), in all likelihood a leadership race will ensue.
It is clear that such a vote would open up a period of intense discussion about the future of the NDP.
So, what should socialists and labour activists do?
Should we just wait to see what happens, and in the meantime conduct ‘business as usual’ by submitting resolutions to the Convention, knowing full well that party officials will ensure that few of our resolutions ever make it to the floor?
This is where a bold initiative is needed – to galvanize the widespread discontent in the party and its voter base by posing a concrete course of action: Demand that Andrea resign, and insist that a full review of the political direction of the party take place now.
Is there a risk that such a demand may upset a section of the membership? Well, yes, but which section of members is likely to be offended? Will it be supporters of the openly critical letter of the 34 prominent present and former NDPers? Or that part of the labour section which openly broke with Andrea the day the election was called? Or the mass of party members who were so dissatisfied with Andrea’s campaign that they did not participate in it?
Of course, there is the segment, including party staff and paid canvassers, who heartily support making the NDP the New Liberal Party – but the left has few prospects among them.
Naturally, the removal of Andrea is no guarantee that another MPP in the top job will change direction.
But what are the chances if the party ranks, including the SC, do not demand this? It would only help Horwath and her team of handlers and fixers to weather the storm.
Our task is to ‘fan the flames of discontent.’ On what basis should we demand a full review of the r-BARRY-WEISLEDER-NDP-large570political direction of the party, starting with the demand that the Leader resign? It should be done on the basis that there was no mandate to turn right; indeed, that to survive the NDP must turn sharply to the left.
What should be said to those who argue that it’s time to launch a new electoral party of the left? Stand up and fight for your principles – but fight where it really matters. Don’t retreat into a fantasy world.
What is the record of new left-party initiatives in English Canada?
It ranges from tragedy to farce. The Waffle movement had 10,000 NDP supporters in the early 1970s. But within three years of its departure from the NDP, it had disappeared. The Campaign for an Activist Party, and later the New Politics Initiative, led by Svend Robinson and Judy Rebick in the 1990s, were top-down, undemocratic structures that gave up the fight and disappeared. Four years ago a small body of dissident NDPers launched the Ginger Group. After a brief polemic, it quit the NDP and launched the Socialist Party of Ontario. In 2011 it ran three candidates. On June 12, 2014 the SPO ran only two candidates. The Communist Party of Canada ran 11 candidates on a left-reformist platform. None of those ‘left’ candidates got more than 200 votes. The NDP got 1.1 million votes, with no support from big business. Most of its votes came from working people in heavily working class districts.
Then there is the left-populist or anarchist perspective. It says “Just ignore the NDP”. The problem with that is many-fold. It is economist. It leaves the struggle for bread and butter improvements at the front door of the Legislature. It is anti-political, or at best, a stunted form of politics. Worst of all, it gives the present leadership of the working class a free hand to continue the sell-out. That includes so-called strategic voting, which favours the Liberal Party. We saw what that means when Gerry Dias, the President of UNIFOR, was shown on TV at the Liberal victory party congratulating Kathleen Wynne.
The NDP is the only mass, labour-based political party in North America. To understand the significance of that, just look at politics in the United States. The NDP remains a workers’ party, which is obvious to anyone who has been to an NDP convention. But the NDP has a staunchly pro-capitalist leadership which is out of step with reality, that is, seemingly oblivious to the extremely destructive decline of late capitalism.
The struggle for a Workers’ Agenda will take place in the NDP, as it will take place in the unions. Not exclusively there, but there too.
The battle against capitalist austerity continues. Quickly the Toronto Star warned Wynne to renege on her ‘progressive’ promises and instead to reduce the deficit – “to avoid a credit-rating downgrade.” The Star asks, “Will Wynne play Hudak-lite and cut public service jobs or government spending?” It darkly predicts “confrontations with public sector unions.”
Let’s hope that there will be confrontations – arising from resistence to the coming cuts. Let’s hope that union leaders don’t declare victory over Hudak and then go to sleep, as they did when the Bob Rae-led Ontario NDP surprisingly won a majority of seats in 1990.
529399_10152715812245215_874041131_nOne thing should be clear: for anti-austerity resistence to succeed there must be rank and file organization against austerity and concessions inside the NDP and the unions.
A critical test of that idea will occur at the Ontario NDP Convention in November. To prepare for that, the Socialist Caucus will host an Ontario Conference on Saturday, September 6. It will petition for a change of leadership and political direction of the party. It will decide on priority resolutions. It will select SC candidates for the ONDP Executive. It will plan the next edition of Turn Left, the SC magazine, for which a fund appeal is presently underway.
Can the Socialist Caucus make a difference? It has proven that it can. The SC won the federal NDP in 2006 to the policy ‘Canada Out of Afghanistan’. The SC led the fight at the 2011 NDP convention in Vancouver to keep ‘socialism’ in the party constitution, and again at the 2013 convention where we won the debate on ‘free post-secondary education’. We forced the Ontario party leadership in 2010 to conduct a review of public funding of Catholic separate schools, and held the only large public hearing on the issue.
Clearly, socialist revolution requires more than socialist resolutions. But change starts with joining the fight inside the main working class organizations.
Capitalism has nothing to offer workers, women, youths, seniors and the poor. The Occupy movement showed there is a hunger for change, and re-defined the notion of ‘majority.’ The Quebec students’ movement showed what a mass ‘social strike’ against neo-liberalism looks like. The current continental campaign for a $15/hour minimum wage inspires millions.
Opposition to Line 9, to the Northern Gateway pipeline, and the fight to save Canada’s postal services have the same potential. The global popularity of Thomas Piketty’s book ‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century’ indicates the wide disdain for growing inequality, and the appetite for a radical new direction. The defeat of Ken Georgetti’s executive slate at the Canadian Labour Congress Convention in May is further evidence of stirrings below the surface.
In our tortured world, anger and suffering there is aplenty. What’s lacking is leadership. Leadership is born in struggle. Join the struggle for a new leadership in the workers’ movement. Join the NDP Socialist Caucus. Together we will win.
Sign the petition! Spread the word!!

OPS benefits cut, but NDP’s Horwath silent, and OFL’s Ryan pissed

Following the lead of the federal Conservative regime, the Ontario Liberal government announced that, starting in 2017, it will force its public service workers to pay more and work twice as long to qualify for retirement benefits such as life insurance and health coverage.

The measures, which require retirees to pay half their benefit premiums, now fully funded by Queen’s Park, and necessitate 20 years’ service instead of the present 10, are not subject to negotiation, which they will be at the federal level. Liberal Government Services Minister John Milloy simply imposed the changes, aimed at saving $1.2 Billion over five years. This will be directly at the expense of provincial workers, and indirectly harms all workers by the example it sets.
Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union President Warren (Smokey) Thomas denounced the “out of the blue” move. “We are looking at our options.”
According to President of the Ontario Federation of Labour, Sid Ryan, when Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath was asked by reporters about this, she said “No comment.”
horwathThat was coupled with Horwath’s avoidance of the minimum wage issue for months. Then she proposed a measly increase, over two years – just $1 more than the insulting Liberal increase of 75 cents to take effect this Spring. While Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne sets the poverty wage at $11/hour, Horwath would make it $12/hour (in 2016). Labour and many anti-poverty groups demand a $14/hour minimum now, indexed to the rate of influation. Socialists, and some unions like CUPE-Ontario call for $17/hour now, fully indexed. Apparently, that doesn’t fit with Horwath’s appeal to ‘middle class’ voters, and to “making life more affordable.”
Sid Ryan delivered a scathing report to the Ontario NDP provincial council on the morning of March 2. He said he was “perplexed” by the process and by the weak position taken on the minimum wage.
Ryan minced no words in stating how disturbed he was to hear that NDP MPPs voted in the Ontario Legislature for a Conservative motion that opposes any increase in corporate taxation. He additionally denounced Horwath’s call for a reduction in taxes on small business, from the present 5% to 3.5%, to support a tiny increase in the minimum wage. “How will an NDP government pay for improvements in transportation, health, education and other vital services if it doesn’t plan to tax those who can afford to pay more?”
On the topic of pensions, Ryan bluntly warned that if Queen’s Park initiates an Ontario pension plan because Ottawa refuses to increase the CPP, it had better be a universal plan, with no opt-out features, or Labour will vigorously oppose it. He explained, in advance, his reasons for concern.
“There is no consultation with unions by the party leadership. Policy decisions are just announced. There may be a wise and grand strategy behind it all, but it’s certainly not evident to me,” Ryan complained.ryan_syd
Finally, the OFL President insisted on the importance of the campaign to defend postal services, to reverse the Tory-backed Canada Post plan to eliminate door-to-door mail delivery. He pointed to this writer as the organizer of a mass picket, set for March 15 at the Toronto office of Conservative Cabinet Minister Joe Oliver, and urged everyone to participate in the protest.
To those who claim that, no matter what the NDP does, labour has no where else to go, the OFL head warned: “Look at what happened in British Columbia. Workers there were alienated by the NDP, and when the election came, many just stayed at home.”
Sid Ryan concluded by confiding to the council that the harsh things he’d said were necessary to say, all true, and told from the heart – and that being frank about these matters may be the only way to get a real dialog going.
And he’s correct. But much more must be said, and done, to force the ONDP leadership off its present course, increasingly distant from the union movement, and increasingly cozy with the business class.
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