Critical Choice For The NDP

Twice in my life I’ve had the misfortune of working in a unionized workplace. I say misfortune, because those two stints easily stand out as the most dysfunctional, backass experiences of my life. I still support unions in theory, but like many, many Canadians I understand the practical disconnect, the idealistic intent so often distorted in very unflattering fashion. The above a massive generalization, fully appreciating exceptions, fully understanding my experience of unproductive, nonsensical relationships, a limited perspective…

I’m not anti-union, I didn’t support the government attacking postal workers, their one sided view of the world on fully display. I support BALANCE, which means often times unions and their right wing opposers both miss the mark, there is a compromised ground which neither has the proper capacity to appreciate. I mention all of this blathering in the context of the NDP and their internal struggle with unions and their prominence moving forward. From the outside, a fascinating debate that pits traditional leanings against pragmatic understanding of expanding your base.

There is an inherent contradiction for a party which prides itself on equality sanctioning a leadership process which GAMES the result, with a backroom flavour to boot. NDP MP Pat Martin, who has a long labour background, actually makes quite a bit of sense here:

Winnipeg MP Pat Martin similarly said he wants to see a “one-member-one-vote” leadership process, “plain and simple,” with no special influence for labour.

“If labour wants a larger voice they can sell NDP memberships among their union members,” Martin said.

“It would be one less thing for our enemies to use against us,” he added, alluding to the fact that rival parties have often portrayed the NDP as captive to big labour.

Getting rid of the labour vote quota doesn’t translate to diminished labour influence necessarily. There is nothing stopping unions- and their MASSIVE organizational tools- from being power brokers, they just have to work for it, rather than anointed say. In addition, the optics of “one member one vote” send a clear signal to Canadians that the NDP isn’t a narrow party, but one that more can embrace without hesitation. People can debate until the cows come home, but the idea of the NDP closely tied to big labour is a very limiting proposition. Many people write off the NDP immediately because of this fact. As well, when one sees how quickly opponents of the NDP continually try to box them in as serving a special interest, it should act as a CLUE that beyond a certain threshold the affiliation is albatross in nature. Let’s put it this way, as a Liberal I’m hoping the NDP maintain their 25% labour threshold.

Unions will always play a large role, so long as unions have a large membership capable of putting boots on the ground and influencing the process. Should unions diminish in stature, any artificial measures that prop up their role isn’t representative, it’s a bastardized process that looks more like a special interest lobbying effort than progressive politics. If unions want a certain leader, they have all the tools necessary to provide massive inputs, nobody disputes this potential within the NDP.

Unions may be a great source of support for the NDP, but they are also an irritant for many would be supporters. It will interesting to see if the NDP recognize potential evolution or remain shackled by one side of the modern political equation.

Click HERE to read more from Steve Val.

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