An article here at rabble.ca has suggested that if labour and the New Democratic Party end their historic relationship both sides would be better off. That is the voice of frustration, not of vision.
Clearly, there are tensions running high between some labour and party activists over the strategies in the last election. We have some advice for the protagonists in this debate: Take a step back, and work through our problems in the interests of the millions of working people we represent.
How would either the New Democratic Party or labour be better off without each other? We say that it is the role of organized labour as a founding constituent of the party that gives the NDP a character that distinguishes it from the Democratic Party south of the border. Gore Vidal once wrote that the Republicans and Democrats are one party with two arms. That is also true of the Liberal and Conservative parties in this country.
Happily, there has been a third alternative in this country which is explicitly social democratic. To think that there would be a social democratic NDP in Canada without labour’s influence and participation is to forget or ignore the entire history of labour and politics in our country.
There have been books written on the “imperfect union” of labour and the NDP, and we are no doubt in the middle of writing another chapter in this unfolding relationship. However, from the NDP’s traditional position on social issues, labour laws and taxation, to the recent successes of passing the Westray Bill and the federal Wage Protection Fund, the NDP has transformed labour perspectives and priorities into Canadian laws and institutions.
Without labour, the NDP would lack a defining feature and would eventually become a blurry adjunct of the Liberal Party. Without the NDP and a clear political alternative to the parties of Canadian business, the labour movement would be politically rudderless and at the mercy of demagogic politicians offering pay-offs to supporters, while fundamentally at the service of the business establishment.
Labour leaders must reflect on the choice that is being offered to sever their ties with the NDP. Let’s do politics differently, it is suggested. Taking a page from the old school of AFL-CIO “Gomperism,” unions would support parties and candidates on an issue-by-issue basis. At the same time, we would ask our members to support a new type of politics that challenges the power of transnational corporations and global capitalism. Thinking members will correctly answer that you cannot credibly do both.
If the NDP and those in labour who now feel estranged would take a step back from divisive accusations, it may become clear that the present political moment offers the social democratic movement a tremendous opportunity. Both arms of the Canadian business party are mired in a justly deserved minority status. The NDP has elected a strong caucus with a record number of women and including MPs from the labour movement. Jack Layton is trusted by Canadians and held in high regard by everyone in this debate.
Our members, and Canadians generally, are open to a bold political alternative. We say to progressive Canadians, this is our moment to seize. Together, labour and the NDP are that alternative.
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