Part I: Who is Gomperist Now?
by Goodwin Ginger
Recently Jim Stanford of the CAW has come out and opted to stick to the defence that the membership made the CAW do it. The response emanating from other labour centrals is the argument that as imperfect as the NDP maybe, it is the only political game in town. Besides, it is argued, this is not the first time the NDP and organized labour have had troubles in their relationship. The message seems to be “chill Buzz, we can work it out.” The choice by CAW and NDP supporters to frame this whole debacle in terms of “trust”, “communication” and “perception” reeks of a degenerate social democratic paradigm. To cast all matters of economic and political conflict in the frame of a “relationship” is not only tedious, but as argued below, misses the mark of what is at stake.
The fact is, whether the NDP wants to admit this or not, it is a party on the secular decline regardless of its present electoral fortunes in the context of a minority government. Sans a minority government the press will return to its blissful ignorance of the NDP’s existence and for good reason—it will be the fourth of four parties in the House of Commons. True, if in the next election the Greens were to get a seat then the NDP would move up to 4th place in the house. Cold comfort to be sure.
Provincially, the NDP is equally as weak; everywhere it matters anyway. In British Columbia, the Liberals are about to hand leadership over to a much more moderate figure and thus it looks like there is the making of a liberal dynasty in BC. Alberta: no comment necessary here. In Ontario, after Bob the Rhodes Scholar Rae’s genius leadership, it is generally agreed the NDP is not in contention even to form the opposition any time soon. Quebec: forget about it. So federally the NDP has already crested the high water mark of its influence. In all but one of the four most populace provinces it does not even make the official opposition roll call and is not likely to for the long-term. Who needs the NDP? And who will want them once their “loaned votes” are called in?
The NDP is not only in decay it is basically rudderless. The minority government has essentially turned them into parliamentarian “Gomperists.” It is hard to call out the CAW for this strategy when it is the very strategy at play within the federal NDP itself. Indeed, the NDP are now committed to supporting any party that “kind of sort of supports something similar to what they maybe had in mind.” To be fair, they would argue we do not have a choice the Canadian public does not want another election. Oh that old saw: “the electorate made us do it.” Regardless, the fact is that having failed to substantially pick up the disaffected Liberal vote they are now playing footsies with the Tories. This makes NDP activists who ask Buzz how he could stump for Belinda look a little churlish no?
Does any of this read as a political crisis for the NDP within the NDP’s professional cadres? If it does, they are not letting on and neither are their allies in the labour movement. In the plastic world of cadre politics it is all about the spin. Instead of using the CAW defection from social democracy to question the state of labour and the broader social democratic drift of the late 20th century we get instead hollow calls for solidarity. Check this out:
“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.”
No doubt part of the CAW’s frustration is the impenetrability of the above rose-coloured schmaltz. If this honestly reflects the sentiment and analysis of some of the major labour centrals towards the NDP and social democracy all one can conclude is that spin has become a palliative narcotic which having failed to secure votes has nonetheless dulled the senses.
Leaving the vacuous name calling aside, the real problem for the NDP is that it has followed the institutional trajectory that all political parties seem to follow from a mass to a cadre party. Unfortunately for the NDP, and unlike the other two major Anglo parties, the cadre model does not, nor will it ever fit their needs. This point will be revisited in part III of this article.
Part II: The CAW’s Strong Arms and Daft Head
Those bright bullyboys over at the CAW know all of this of course and this why they have been insistent that the NDP take some direction from outside of the party’s professional cadres. The NDP, on this reading needs organized labour more than organized labour needs them. And what is more the NDP is in need of fundamental restructuring that does not lead in the direction of Blairism. Once upon a time this was the noise Buzz was making. Even recently Buzz made clear his dissatisfaction with the electoralism of the NDP suggesting that such a focus was bound to cause a rightward drift.
“With the focus of the hierarchy of the NDP on electoral success, as opposed to offering real change, socialist ideas for the most part are left, with a few of us who are accused of living in the past.”
This would be a very heartening analysis were it not for the fact that it is upon such an observation that Buzz took licence to move the CAW to the right. Consider that immediately following this observation Buzz made the following statement.
“As for the McGuinty government, we will decide at the Council meeting prior to the election what our union’s position will be. I will say it is very difficult to get excited about the potential for the Ontario NDP at this point.”
How can one move so effortlessly from the observation that the NDP’s focus on electoral success is driving it towards the right to the position that given the NDP’s poor chances of forming government it may be prudent to endorse the Ontario Liberals? Who, indeed, is engaging in crass electoralism now?
Making sense of the CAW’s paradoxical position is not easy unless it is recognized that labour politics like electoral politics on the left is a drift upon the waters of short-term pragmatism and long-term pessimism. True unlike their American counter-parts organized labour in Canada is in relatively good shape with nearly one of three Canadian workers belonging to a union. The problem is that union density has been slowly declining and with an increasingly vulnerable export sector and a notoriously hard to organize service sector this trend is not likely to reverse itself in the foreseeable future.