The Ontario NDP executive apparently has the power to suspend the NDP membership of the CAW President, without consulting anybody, and even if (when eventually informed) federal leader Jack Layton does not agree with the decision.
Ontario NDP leader Howard Hampton has let the party president explain: Buzz Hargrove can ask to be re-instated; all he has to do is announce he will not call on people to vote for parties other than the NDP.
Asked if he planned to recant, Hargrove pointed out that he carried out the policy adopted by the CAW council, and was not about to shelve the CAW strategic voting policy (call it the lend me your vote to stop the Conservatives plan, as opposed to the lend me your vote to elect the NDP message of the party in the recent federal election).
In the early 1970s, the Ontario NDP moved to expel Mel Watkins, James Laxer and other members of the waffle group. Party officials said at the time the NDP could not tolerate having a party within the party.
A close advisor to Tommy Douglas described this to me as the time when the party decided to decapitate itself.
Laxer did come back to work as research director of the party caucus under Ed Broadbent, and Watkins rejoined the party, and was twice a federal candidate in the 1990s, but the party and left thinkers are no longer on close terms, even today. Charles Taylor and Michael Oliver of McGill University had both been NDP presidents in the 1960s. Kari Levitt's magnificent book Silent Surrender began life as an economic policy paper for the NDP.
In the 1930s, Frank Scott, McGill Law Dean, and Frank Underhill, University of Toronto historian, were instrumental in the creation of the CCF, the predecessor to the NDP. Longtime CCF leader J.S. Woodsworth relied on academics and intellectuals outside the party.
Now most left intellectuals are outside the party, describing themselves as part of the independent left. In other words they are politically inactive.
For Jack Layton and the NDP to succeed politically they need close links with intellectuals, and with social activists.
A Belgian socialist once explained that you joined a socialist party to change the world. But to get elected, socialist parties had to take the world as they found it. The point about social activists is they are working to build the forces within the world that allow a left party to bring forward its agenda for change, so they can get elected in today's world.
The latest move by the Ontario NDP is an example of how not to do politics with social movements.Bill Clinton used to practice triangulation: you talk about children, and you get support from parents. The Ontario version is you kick out the CAW president, and you drive other union and social activists away from the party.
There may be political differences with activist groups (non-partisanship comes with government funding). But, take the National Anti Poverty Association (NAPO), for example: even if it does not endorse candidates for public office, by building a living wage coalition, it creates space for the NDP to talk about the fall in the standard of living.
The Ontario NDP should be figuring out to bring more brain power into the party orbit, and how to line up more social activist firepower as support, not suspending a leading social activist trade union leader.
The Ontario NDP would never have been elected in 1990 without the support of the CAW, CUPE, the Steelworkers and other trade unionists. If the party had listened to social activists when it did take office, Ontario would now have public auto insurance, and a fair tax system.
Instead the Ontario NDP created a gap with social movements that has not healed to this day in the minds of public sector workers who had their pay packets reduced, and social activists who watched the deficit become the issue instead of the need for social spending.
Many Ontario-based social activists believe that in the 1988 free trade election, the NDP put its partisan interest first, and the country second.
Yes, Buzz Hargrove puts his union ahead of his party; he speaks on behalf of the livelihood of 280,000 workers and their families. And he puts his country ahead of his party also, which is something to emulate, not to argue with, most would agree.
That the Ontario NDP can suspend the membership of Buzz Hargrove not only in Ontario but in the Federal party as well, without consulting the national caucus, or federal council, suggests the Federal party has a problem on its hands.
The Ontario NDP, with the media present, should recognize that the executive mis-stepped and apologize to all.
And, of course, to make their point properly, they could always have Howie Hampton put an NDP jacket on Buzz, and give him a big hug.
Editor's note: This column has been corrected. In its original form, it reported that the Ontario NDP executive did not rate a mention on the party's website. That information was wrong. rabble.ca regrets this error.
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