Today is election-day in British Columbia and the BC New Democratic Party is trailing in the polls. After four years of right wing rule in British Columbia the province’s social services have been decimated. One third of the public sector has been laid off, hospitals and schools have been shut down and the minimum wage has been reduced by 20% for new workers. Gordon Campbell’s attacks have touched every sector of the working class, yet the NDP has failed to win the support of the majority of British Columbians. A series of compromises and betrayals from the leadership of the labour movement has led to a lull in the movement against the government. Only a year ago BC stood on the brink of a general strike, now all is quiet on the industrial front. This election should have been a cake walk for the NDP, but the drift to the right by the leadership has left workers uninspired. What a mess.
When Carole James was elected leader of the BC New Democratic Party she was substantially to the left of where she stands now, and that isn’t saying much. Although her election was nothing more than a victory for the status quo, she has since stepped even further to the right. During the leadership campaign Carole promised that the next NDP government would freeze tuition at 2001 levels. A resolution to that affect was defeated by the convention because it wasn’t good enough. Several speakers spoke demanding that tuition should be free. But now after Gordon Campbell’s government has let tuition double in the province, the NDP won’t commit to anything more than a tuition freeze at 2004 levels.
The party has focused their campaign on attacking Gordon Campbell. Their commercials speak about all of the cuts and broken promises from the Liberal government. Imagine how much more effective this would be if the statement “Gordon Campbell closed 113 schools” was followed by “and we’re going to reopen them!”? They are correct to play on the hatred of Gordon Campbell. The working class has been under attack from this government for the last four years and many people will be coming out to vote against them. But, it is even more important to give people something to vote for.
The NDP’s platform is uninspiring and void of any real commitments. It’s not what’s in the platform so much as what isn’t that’s the problem. No commitment to take back the privatized public services, no commitment to restore the labour code, no commitment to reopen the hospitals that have been closed, no commitment to reverse the tax cuts for the rich, no commitment to replace welfare funding, no commitment to eliminate user fees, no commitment to reopen the schools that Gordon Campbell shut down. It would seem that Carole James has a commitment problem.
Trotsky once pointed out that if you stand in the middle of the road, you will get hit by traffic from both directions. That is precisely what is happening in the NDP. That is why they lost the last election and that is why they are loosing this one. As Carole James presses further to the right, the only thing she is accomplishing is alienating the traditional base of support for the party. Even many regular party activists have been absent in the campaign. I recently talked to one former president of a constituency association who said “It may as well be another Liberal Party, so why bother.” He hasn’t been active in the campaign at all.
The previous decade of NDP government was disappointing to say the least. The government legislated striking CUPE workers back to work and removed any and all employment rights for tech workers. When the NDP was kicked out of office in 2001 they were reduced to just two seats out of seventy nine in the legislature. Gordon Campbell’s “Liberal” party was given a government without opposition. And now the NDP is not only repeating the mistakes of the past, but exaggerating them. The reason the NDP was thrown out in the first place was because they didn’t really improve the lives of working people, and now they’re about to make the same mistake again.
If one looks at the surface of events, it is easy to draw the conclusion that the NDP is useless and not worth wasting our time with. So many on the left have given up and turned their backs on them. But, a closer look at the processes at work under the surface provides a different analysis. The New Democratic Party is organically linked to the working class. It is the party of organized labour. Unions affiliate to the party and are given delegates to conventions. The leaders of the labour movement are the same people running the NDP, a look at the attendance sheet of any high level NDP meeting will show this. Why is this important? Because the leadership of the NDP will only remain in power as long as the labour movement is willing to tolerate them.
Sooner or later workers will be forced to take the road of struggle. And this is when the leaders of the NDP and the labour movement will prove their political bankruptcy. More and more as the working class springs to life, they come into conflict with the “leaders” of their unions who want nothing more than stability. As they clash head on with their own bureaucracies that do everything they can to hold the workers down, they elect leaders who will be willing to fight. In times of class struggle, this process will penetrate every layer of the labour movement including its political expression, the NDP.
This process is already in turn in the labour movement. The betrayal of the HEU strike helped set the wheels in motion. The leadership of the BC Federation of Labour has proven that they aren’t willing to fight back. And the prospect of another term for the bosses’ party has them shaking in their boots. They understand that another Liberal government means another wave of attacks. And this of course will mean another radicalization of the rank and file.
All of this will find its political expression. But, the rank and file of the NDP is already getting frustrated with Carole James. There is no base of support in the party for her drive to the right. There is an uneasy truce during the election campaign. Party activists are focusing on getting rid of Gordon Campbell for the time being. But, after the election we will see larger battles opening up in the party. And if the NDP looses this election, this may happen sooner rather than later.
Carole James and her ruling clique can see where this process is leading. This is why they are planning to bring a constitutional amendment to the party’s policy convention in November to break the link with labour. Of course it will be dressed up in an unclear way and it will have the support of the labour leadership. The leaders of the New Democratic Party see the link with the labour movement as a threat to their positions, and rightly so.
If the NDP manages to win this election, it will be seen as a victory for the working class. But the labour movement will not stop there, they will demand the reversal of all of Campbell’s cuts and then some! This will put the rank and file on a collision course with the leadership of the NDP and the labour movement. Unfortunately this perspective is looking increasingly less likely. If the BC Liberals win another term in office Carole James will have to face the rank and file with the defeat. In this case the confrontation may happen sooner rather than later. In all scenarios we can see storm clouds on the horizon. With capitalism in crisis on a global scale and a climate of instability, there will be big battles to come in all of the mass organizations of the working class. And the NDP certainly won’t be excluded from this process.
17 May, 2005