The NDP and “Big Labour”

Rob Silver, a sharp guy I first met through university debate, has written a rather disappointing piece entitled, “Would NDP be neutral were it in power during a labour dispute?”

This question is interesting and significant. On the one hand, the NDP’s political philosophy is strongly supportive of working people. Compared to Liberals and Conservatives, NDP provincial governments have consistently enacted labour legislation that makes it easier for workers to form unions and engage in collective bargaining.

On the other hand, the state is a very large employer. Governments of all political stripes automatically find themselves on the management side in dealing with their own employees. On several occasions, NDP provincial governments have imposed settlements over the objections of public-sector unions.

Rob does not examine these issues or NDP provincial governments. He just goes for a quick partisan attack, claiming that the federal NDP has been “brazenly pro-big labour” in opposing back-to-work legislation for Canada Post. But what does that mean?

The Canadian Union of Postal Workers has some 54,000 members, not an especially big union. By comparison, the Public Service Alliance of Canada, United Food and Commercial Workers, Auto Workers and Steelworkers each have around 200,000 Canadian members. The Canadian Union of Public Employees represents 600,000.

Rob is not distinguishing between labour organizations based on size. He is just using “big labour” as a pejorative term for any union.


  • It means that, like every other liberal, he doesn’t recognize _any_ bourgeois government as automatically pro-capital.

  • No other government that I can ever recall has been neutral about labour disputes. Why the hell should the NDP be?
    Basically, the playing field this guy is reinforcing is the one where it’s perfectly legitimate to be strongly against unions, but dirty pool to be for them. F that. The NDP should be for working Canadians (and unemployed ones), and there’s no reason that preference should end the day they democratically decide to unite in a group to push for a better deal, aka become unionized.

  • You say: “The NDP’s political philosophy is strongly supportive of working people.”

    Perhaps, but not in this case. Because it’s the union of an important govt monopoly, the postal union has been able to win wages and benefits for its members that most Canadians can only dream of.

    When was the last time you heard of a waitress being aboe to retire on a full pension at age 55? Most waitresses don’t even have pension plans.

    Yet waitresses and all the other working people of Canada end up paying for the postal workers’ rich compensatio package.

    If Jack were really on the side of the working people of Canada, he be backing them, not the postal union.

  • I really do not think Mr. Silver actually understands that the struggle has been going on for several hundred years. Those that own and those that work that which is owned and are forced to be owned.

    And of course I guess one could further back as it is the struggle of the masses to make a living and division of the surplus as the culture see fit. In this time, modernity has pitted workers and the owners against one and other and it is his lack of ability to see how far the struggle reaches into the notion of being and culture.

    Very far and has for much of history, political parties be the latest manifestation of the current extension of that struggle into the the legalistic, representative nexus of modernity in these potentially late stages (if you listen to the post modernists that is), and thankfully in this country has for the past 50 some years had a leftwing social democratic component – who in most cases represent workers.

    So how does one represent workers in this long long history, especially during this recent uprising of class war by the right of center and their corporatist governance cronies? They influence and change the environment in which workers engage their means of production. They do the opposite of what the liberals and the conservatives have been doing since the end of the postwar comprimise, roll back worker protection.

    When I saw that headline, I must admit the first thing I thought of was, what idiots give out the assignments at the globe, but then again, it is but just another sign of the Globe beating on the NDP. Have you noticed? So I guess a better question ought to have been, since the NDP took over as official opposition “Would the Globe seek to be neutral or will they continue to the bash the NDP and promote the liberal revival?”

    you give this guy too much respect Erin as it was I thought a loaded political question filled with inaccuracy and bias.

  • As Brian notes, there are currently huge disparities in pension coverage. One response is to take pensions away from unionized workers, so that no one gets a defined-benefit pension (except corporate executives). I think a better approach is to maintain existing pension plans and extend pension coverage to more workers.

  • Shorter Brian from Toronto:
    The way to support workers in weak positions is to kneecap the stronger ones, thus putting all workers equally on their knees.

  • “the NDP’s political philosophy is strongly supportive of working people”

    If by political philosophy you mean the NDP’s fantasy about itself. I mean, look at Horwath’s recent platform announcement: No money for any sort of anti-poverty strategy, no money for child care, no money for transit infrastructure or housing, cuts to public services and so on. The NDP is a liberal-capitalist party that is deeply hostile to worker’s interests and ought to be disbanded by force.

  • for sure there is always the threat of third wayism fro the NDP, and given the decline of the liberals, I speculate there will is a strong urge for the career politicians, and some center left to make a push for that non worker rep space. We are on the cusp of such decisions so I think Donald’s point is important to consider.

    I just hope the brainiacs in the party read up on the British experience. We would hate to have to go through the whole political debate again with new parties being formed and similar such divisive activities.

  • I am not sure which platform Donald was reading. The Ontario NDP platform’s centerpiece is restoring a 14% provincial corporate tax rate to fund more public services and targeted investment tax credits.

  • Erin, the 14% tax rate (which will mean revenues will still be at least $10 billion lower than their 1995 rates would allow) funds mostly other tax cuts (and mostly to promote polluting activities like driving cars). The platform identifies over one billion in arbitrary cuts to public services that then funds some investments like minor increases to health care and operating funding for transit.

    Welfare rates are essentially frozen at Harris levels plus CPI inflation. No real money for education at any level. No housing program. No new child care spaces.

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