With the election of a 10th consecutive majority government of the Conservative Party in Alberta there is a tendency on the left to draw pessimistic conclusions. In order to have an accurate appraisal of the situation we need to view the elections in a dialectical manner. The results taken on their own, and interpreted in a mechanical way, one could easily come to the conclusion that there is no hope for the NDP in Alberta, let alone the acceptance of socialist ideas. We need to view elections as merely a snapshot of a living process – like a picture as opposed to a movie. There are more underlying processes at work in Albertan society, the results of which are only beginning to be seen in the political arena.
The underlying contradictions that capitalism brings to Alberta have been reflected in the results of the elections. In Canada’s richest province, there exists grinding poverty. It is not insignificant that the NDP won two new seats, while the Tories lost 13 seats. It is even more significant that Mark Norris, the former Minister for Economic Development, was defeated. Far from ushering another 4 years of reaction, this is a warning of things to come. The working class is becoming frustrated and is beginning to look for a solution to its problems.
This election came at a time when the situation in Alberta was anything but friendly to the majority of the province’s 3 million inhabitants. In the countryside the Mad Cow crisis crippled beef trade with the US and is once again rearing its ugly head. The steady replacement of the family farm by industrial multinational ones also brings fresh attacks upon the living standards of farmers. After taxes, Alberta has one of the lowest minimum wages at just $5.28/h as well as one of the lowest levels of union representation in the country. It is no mistake that youth aged 15 to 25 make up 52.5% of these minimum wage earners, and that 59% are women. On top of this we can add the fiascos resulting from the government’s privatization and deregulation schemes. And all of this in one of the country’s wealthiest provinces!
The programme of big business that the Conservative Party offers has nothing in store but attacks upon workers, despite election time rhetoric about “practical” solutions. The new laws in Alberta for auto insurance bore witness to a 57% increase in profits while claims only increased by a mere 3%, all while Albertans paid well over 40% more than their western Canadian counterparts. Other tips of the hat from the Tories to big business can be seen where $400 million for relief for farmers affected by the Mad Cow crisis didn’t go. It didn’t go to the farmers. It went to the packing houses owned by foreign (mostly US) corporations.
These attacks upon the working class cannot be chopped up simply to the programme of the Tories. They are necessary for capitalism to survive. When at work, we are paid an accepted minimum for survival, rather than the amount of profit that we actually produce. As a result, longer days, lower wages, attacks on union rights, sped up production and distribution all mean more profit for the boss. For many, cutting costs includes lay offs. This in turn reduces the number of people who have money to buy things, which hurts profits, and begins a vicious cycle. With overproduction so rampant on an international scale the capitalists are forced to attack the working class to boost profits. This in turn will only be justified by the weakening US dollar making Canadian exports more expensive. They will say to us “We need to be able to compete or we will go out of business!”
The Liberals, Alberta’s second largest party, slyly campaign on the left but soon prove this to be nothing more than empty election rhetoric. In order to split the NDP vote, the Liberals bring up the idea of strategic voting. The point of this, they say, is to kick out the Tories by concentrating the opposition vote on the Liberals. In this way, they successfully trick honest working class voters who genuinely want to get rid of the Tories. But what we need to make absolutely clear is that the Liberals and the Tories are both parties of big business and as such cannot serve the interests of the working class.
The voter turnout was just 44.8%, compared to the already shamefully low 52.8% turnout in 2001. This at a time when the NDP finds itself at an impasse, with the careerist layers of the Party diluting the program in order to “appeal to broader sections of society”. How much “broader” than the overwhelming majority that is the working class does the party wish to appeal? Through this policy, the Party only alienates workers who would come out to vote if they felt it was worth the bother – and it is a bother when none of the parties are offering real solutions. Instead, they are all competing for the votes of the ruling and upper-middle classes – a small number of people that will certainly never vote NDP. Mobilizing the working class and poor who do not vote would be more than enough to defeat the Tories and boost the number of NDP seats by more than a meagre two constituencies!
In spite of the current leadership’s failure to see the obvious, when the workers begin to move, it will be through their traditional organizations. This means they will join in their hundreds, thousands, and hundreds of thousands the trade unions and the NDP seeking solutions to their problems. This will lead to the development of a stronger left wing within the Party, which will in turn bring pressure to bear on the leadership, forcing a shift to the left in its policy.
Regardless of pressure from the capitalist parties to capitulate, the NDP needs to call loudly and unapologetically for a living wage for all working people, the right to union representation and to strike without the threat of back to work legislation or imprisonment (as experienced by the province’s nurses). We need to push for free access to health care and education, the right to employment, and most importantly the nationalization under workers control of the commanding heights of the economy. The Party must remember the last lines of its founding document, the Regina Manifesto, which read: “No CCF government will rest content until it has eradicated capitalism and put into operation the full programme of socialized planning which will lead to the establishment in Canada of the Cooperative Commonwealth.” Only with a socialist programme can the Party ever hope to achieve a real solution to the problems working people face, clearing the path for truly dignified existence. The task of Marxism is to push for precisely such policies.
NDP to Power on a Socialist Program!