When Carole James was elected leader of the BC NDP nobody would have imagined that less than a year later she would be saying things like “As the new leader of the BC New Democrats, I am reaching out to the business community in a way New Democrats have not done before”, or “I want the NDP and the business community to work in partnership”. After all, Nils Jensen was the Blairite candidate and most members were hostile to this. But here we are, ten months later, and the leader of the BC NDP has taken the road of cowardice and compromise. She has promised to consult the “business community” before making any fast changes to the labour code or employment standards act and continually talks about working together with business. But in doing so, Carole James is digging her own grave as leader of the BC NDP.
Carole James came to power without a platform. She said nothing concrete in her campaign for leader and clearly had no real plan for how to move forward. This is precisely why the party brass rallied around her and got her elected. Each of the four leading candidates represented a different section of the party. Nils Jensen was the Blairite, who urged the party to move to the right and grudgingly admitted to donating money to the BC Liberal Party in the last provincial election. Leonard Krog represented the old guard of the last NDP government and specifically, the Glen Clark wing of the party. Steve Orcherton was an unapologetically working class candidate who demanded that the NDP “fight the real enemy” and return to its principles. And finally, Carole James was an empty smile.
The ruling clique of the party chose Carole as their candidate. Although they would have been much happier with Nils Jensen, they recognized that the rank and file would not accept him and backing Nils would only discredit them. A few of the more right wing elements of the NDP executive openly endorsed Nils Jensen, but the rest fell into line behind Carole James. One by one, the public sector unions began endorsing her.
The endorsement from CUPE was an absolute betrayal. The rank and file of CUPE was solidly behind Steve Orcherton. Steve was the only MLA in the last NDP government that had the courage to stand up for CUPE members when the NDP government legislated them back to work. He broke ranks with the NDP caucus to defend the right to strike and this earned him the hatred of the party brass.
It was clear at convention that the Carole James campaign had money. Her office had computers, a photocopier, fax machine, big full colour posters, scarves and all kinds of excessive propaganda. She was being backed by a major machine, but why? Why would the leaders of the labour movement and the NDP be so eager to back someone with no real political direction? It is all very simple. They wanted someone pliable. They needed a leader that they could control; that is, a leader that wouldn’t lead. And this is precisely what they found in Carole James.
Since that convention, Carole James has moved steadily to the right. Her speeches: clearly written by her handlers. She was complicit in the sellout of the HEU strike and actually laid the groundwork for the deal by stating that the government should at least remove the retroactivity of the wage cut. This set the bar for the compromise, at the expense of the entire labour movement.
The ruling clique of the NDP is preparing an election platform that Tony Blair would be proud of. The general idea: no promises. They will tell British Columbians that our province has been so damaged by the BC Liberal government that they don’t know if they can fix it. They will tell us that you can’t unscramble an omelet. And they will say that they will do their best, but can’t make any guarantees. And of course, if they promise nothing, that is exactly what they will deliver.
There is a misconception that socialists have to water down their program to gain votes. On the contrary, this is actually the only way the NDP could lose the next election. People are very angry with Gordon Campbell’s government. Only a few months ago, the rank and file of the labour movement was ready to shut the province down with a general strike to bring down the government. Workers desperately want an alternative and of course the NDP is that alternative. But we must give people something to vote for. If the NDP doesn’t give people something concrete to vote for, they won’t bother to vote at all. A commitment to take back the privatized crown corporations, overturn the reactionary legislation and restore funding to social programs, in contrast would result in a landslide victory in May 2005.
On July 15, 2004 Carole James made an historic speech go the Coalition of BC Businesses. In this speech she unintentionally defined herself as a Blairite. She calls for a close partnership between business and the NDP. She embraces the market economy and calls for “a partnership, built on trust between government, labour, and the business community.” James says that “New Democrats and the business community share a lot more in common than is often assumed.” Refering to the recent labour unrest in the province, she claims “we need an approach that cools things down, that demands of each of us a willingness to listen, to encourage compromises and to provide a new kind of leadership for BC.”
But there can be no partnership between business and labour. They have conflicting interests. These compromises will always come at the expense of working class people. The members of the Hospital Employees Union were forced (against their will) into “a compromise”. That’s political jargon for fifteen percent wage cut!
Capitalism is in crisis on a world scale. Markets are stagnant at best. International conflicts on every level are popping up like bush fires. Any spark can ignite a firestorm, whether it be revolutionary movements in Latin America, war in the Middle East or public sector strikes in Newfoundland and British Columbia. The crisis of global capital penetrates every sector of society. No one is left untouched. Capitalism cannot afford to give any reforms, and workers cannot afford to take any more cuts. This situation is a recipe for an explosion of the class struggle.
There is no such thing as “an approach that cools things down”. To compromise is to attack the working class. The only options are accepting defeat or escalating the struggle. The class fight will be fought out to the finish, one way or another. This is not something any individual can control, but an integral part of the market economy which Carole James so eagerly embraces.
How is it that such massive contradictions can build up in the Labour movement? To understand this we must understand exactly what the labour movement is. In the last analysis, unions are organs of struggle. They are bodies of workers organizing to defend themselves and to improve their working and living conditions. They take on a democratic form and can be an accurate expression of the needs of working people. During times like the present, workers flood into the organizations which they have created.
But in times of relative class-peace, workers stop participating in the labour movement and spend their time living their own lives. Workers come to meetings when they feel they have a reason to. And when things are relatively calm, the unions are left to a few staff members to run. Running a union can take on a business like form and bureaucracies develop. Union officials can become accustomed to stability and become inflexible. They find nice cushy jobs and start to feel untouchable. But as the class struggle picks up again, these bureaucrats are actually a barrier to the movement. Again and again, when workers return to their mass organizations they find their leaders telling them to compromise. They are asked to wait patiently for the trouble to pass.
Unions are not static structures. They are living bodies which are in constant flux and in a never-ending process of renewal. As the rank and file comes into conflict with their leaders, they use the democratic structures of the union to replace them. These bureaucrats and careerists consequently fear their members. This is why they are afraid of mass movements. This is why they will not mobilize their members. This is why they will so willingly sell out their members if they think it will cool down the situation. Some leaders try to use bureaucratic and undemocratic methods to prevent such movements, but in the end it doesn’t matter. They will be swept aside and new leaders will be elected.
The New Democratic Party is the political expression of the labour movement. It is a workers’ party, organically linked to the trade unions. The NDP is the only party in Canada capable of representing the working class. All of the same processes that take place in the labour movement are reflected inside the NDP. As people try to fight back against capitalism they will find themselves inside the NDP. They will find a leadership that isn’t prepared to lead a fight, a leadership that asks them to compromise, a leadership that is a barrier to their struggle. And they will be forced into opposition with this leadership. Very soon, such leaders will be swept into the dust bins of history.
The right turn of the leadership of the BC NDP represents a real danger for British Columbia. It could mean another five years of attacks from Gordon Campbell and his cronies. It will take a mass movement of the people to bring the NDP back to power. It is even more important that this movement continue after the election—not only to defend the NDP from the attacks of the media and the ruling class, but also to hold the leadership accountable to the working people who elected them. The time has come for every class-conscious worker and activist to come into the NDP and fight for ideas that can win.
Take Back the BC NDP!
Kick out Gordon Campbell!
Fightback for Socialism!