Vote Oakley and Flexer

Vote Against Union Bashing!

This year the three major parties are offering Ontario’s voters the most right-wing set of choices in living memory. The Conservatives, Liberals and NDP are all promising to attack the "deficit" through an aggressive assault on the hard-won gains of working people.

The Mike Harris Tories think that "common sense" means big tax breaks for businesses and the well-heeled, and big spending cuts for hospitals, schools, colleges—every "public service" except the police. Welfare recipients will be forced into slave-labor "workfare" schemes or perhaps used as scabs against the labor movement. The Tories blame capitalism’s failures on the usual scapegoats: employment equity programs (i.e., women and visible minorities), immigrants and the poor.

The Liberal frontrunners have presented a program that reads like a carbon copy of Harris. They too promise to repeal the anti-scab law, force single mothers onto workfare, freeze funding to hospitals and raise tuition fees. With Lyn McLeod as premier only business will escape "anti-deficit" belt-tightening: corporations will get an additional $417 million per year in tax breaks for their heroic work in "creating jobs."

The Liberals and Tories are openly the parties of Bay Street. But what of Premier Bob Rae’s New Democrats, the supposed "friends of labor"? Rae himself has promised/threatened between $2 billion and $3 billion worth of cuts. But he doesn’t want to say where: "I don’t think it’s responsible for people to say ‘here’s all the areas we’re going to cut’ without any discussion or consultation with the people of the province" (Toronto Star, 29 April). We can be sure they won’t include business boondoggles like JobsOntario.

Rather than detail whose ox will be gored in the unlikely event of a second NDP term, Rae campaigns on the ludicrous theme that Ontario is a disadvantaged region in Confederation. He claims to be "best qualified to stand up for Ontario," (perhaps because of his fluency in French and his Oxford education). Unfortunately for him, working people are likely to judge the NDP on its record.

When the NDP won its surprise victory in 1990, many of its supporters hoped it would mean real improvements for the disadvantaged. But Rae and his followers were more concerned about making Ontario safe for bondholders—at the expense of working people. They cut back healthcare, and pushed foreign students off OHIP. They hiked tuition, putting post-secondary education further out of reach for children of ordinary working people. They de-indexed Workers’ Compensation benefits. They introduced welfare cops and promoted rightist fantasies about massive "welfare fraud." Faced with a little pressure from the insurance lobby, they reneged on promises of public auto insurance.

The centerpiece of the whole pro-capitalist program was the Rae government’s 1993 attack on collective bar gaining for public sector workers. The NDP tore up the contracts negotiated with the previous government and gave the unions two choices: accept pay reductions in the form of unpaid holidays ("Rae Days") or have them imposed by legislative fiat, with additional penalties. Bill 48 (perversely dubbed the "Social Contract") also imposed a pay freeze for three years. It established an ominous precedent and signalled that contracts with workers (unlike those with banks and corporations) weren’t binding. As provincial treasurer Floyd Laughren said at the time: "the model we’ve established in Ontario for negotiating with the public sector unions and employers will be a model that other governments will be pressured to use." (Toronto Star, 7 August 1993).

Unless there is a serious fight from the labor movement, the next government in Ontario, whatever its partisan stripe, may well use this "model." A vote for the NDP in this election is a vote for Rae’s attacks on the unions.

Vote for Independent Labor Candidates and NDP Dissidents!

The NDP’s politics are based on the lie that capitalism can be made to benefit everyone—rich and poor, workers and bosses. At best, during times of boom, the reformists sometimes win a few crumbs. But sooner or later the corporate elite demands that the social democrats in office turn on their base to keep the climate attractive for business. Social-democratic governments from Saskatchewan to New Zealand have subjected the working class and the unemployed to austerity with all the fervor of their liberal and conservative rivals.

Only four NDP MPPs (Karen Haslam, Dennis Drainville, Peter Kormos and Mark Morrow) defied the party brass and opposed the Social Contract. Unlike the defeated Bill 167, which was to provide legal equality for same-sex couples, NDP backbenchers were not invited to vote their "consciences" on union-bashing. The NDP MPPs who opposed the social contract are not Marxists. They do not represent a fundamental alternative to the NDP leadership. For them, as for Rae, the limits of the possible are set by the profit system. Yet their vote against the government’s open class treason draws an important line between them and the rest of the NDP caucus. As a result, class-conscious workers should be prepared to vote for them in this election.

In Metro Toronto two independent labor candidates are running against NDP incumbents. The Ontario Public Sector Employees’ Union (OPSEU) is backing Amani Oakley against Tony Silipo, the current Minister of Social Services, and the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) is running Joe Flexer against Tony Rizzo, who voted for the Social Contract and against same-sex benefits.

In a video which the Flexer campaign is distributing, there is a suggestion that the Free Trade Agreement with the U.S. has caused much of the pain working people are feeling. But that pain is a product of the workings of the profit system—dumping "Free Trade" in favor of protectionism would only lead to capitalist demands for cutbacks and layoffs in the name of increased efficiency. The fact is that Canadian capitalists are just as interested in squeezing profits out of workers as American ones. Protectionism obscures this reality, and the necessity for workers in Canada, the U.S., Mexico and around the world to unite against bosses of every nationality.

Flexer and Oakley are not Marxist candidates—their programs do not go beyond reformist/ utopian calls to "tax the rich" and lower interest rates. Socialists don’t call for merely taxing the banks and corporations—but for expropriating them! However, Oakley and Flexer oppose the NDP’s Social Contract and that is the key issue for the labor movement in this election. And they are running against NDPers who voted for the Social Contract. That is why they are worth voting for.

The NDP’s ‘Left’ Loyalists

It would seem obvious that no socialist would want to re-elect a government that put itself at the vanguard of the offensive against social programs and unions. But some groups that claim to be socialist, and even revolutionary, are doing precisely that. Labour Militant, the Leninist-Trotskyist Group and the International Socialists (IS) are all calling for a vote for Bob Rae.

In 1990, when the NDP pulled off its surprise victory, IS leader David McNally wrote, "the first instinct of every genuine socialist was to celebrate on the evening of September 6 as the Ontario Liberals were swept from power and replaced by the province’s first NDP government" (Socialist Worker, October 1990). By contrast, we pointed out at the time: "Working people and oppressed minorities in Ontario will soon discover, if they don’t already know it, that the NDP stands for whatever capitalism will tolerate, and nothing more."

Five years later, in the 3 May Socialist Worker, McNally offered Rae advice on how to turn his electoral fortunes around:

"While it is unclear whether the NDP could win the coming election, there is no doubt that the right kind of campaign could revitalize the flagging party and mobilize many people around key issues of the day.

"An about-turn, even this late in the day, could still rebuild momentum. In the aftermath of a federal Liberal budget which will chop billions of dollars from health care, education and social assistance, there is an opening for a campaign focussed on fighting for jobs and defending social programs."

Against folly the gods themselves fight in vain. In the first place, Rae has himself in effect promised to "chop billions" from health care, education and social assistance. Even if Rae were to suddenly start talking about "fighting for jobs and defending social programs," who would believe him, given the record of the past five years? Rae’s political advisors instead are trying to sell their man as the leader best able to make "hard choices," i.e., lead further attacks on unions and government programs.

The 3 May Socialist Worker explains that it "is vitally important that all workers vote NDP" because "they are a party from our side of the class divide—the only party that is not completely bought and paid for by the rich and powerful." As a sociological characterization, there is some truth to this. Despite the hostility of the Autoworkers and public sector unions, the NDP remains a bourgeois workers’ party—the party of the trade-union bureaucracy. In some circumstances revolutionaries could call for a vote for it—when such a vote would advance the class struggle. But that does not include situations where the NDP is running on its record of attacking the unions and the other constituencies it pretends to defend.

If a left electoral alternative to Rae and his cohorts, however modest, emerges this year, it won’t be thanks to the IS, which has instead undertaken the job of keeping disaffected workers and youth behind the NDP. The IS has attacked the campaigns of the independent labor candidates as a "dead-end." According to Socialist Worker, "It is understandable that many are disillusioned with the NDP. But the truth is, it is only a few on the independent left whose disillusionment has pulled them to the left." Apparently if enough people supported a union-backed campaign against Rae’s attacks on organized labor, then the self-styled "revolutionaries" of the IS would too. Some leadership! The IS generally checks to see which way the wind is blowing and then points in the same direction. Sometimes, as in 1992, when the IS leadership joined the Tories, Liberals and NDP in calling for a "yes" vote for Brian Mulroney’s constitution, this approach can produce embarrassing results.

The IS attempts to put a left face on their denunciation of the independent labor candidates by pointing out that their campaigns are supported by union bureaucrats like Buzz Hargrove. The IS correctly criticizes Hargrove’s treacherous role during the March rail strike (where he told his members to cross other unions’ picket lines). But they did not mention that the Federal NDP voted for back-to-work legislation, leaving the bourgeois nationalist Bloc Quebecois to pose as the defenders of the right to strike.

Hargrove’s record on the railway strike is neither here nor there as far as this election goes. The very fact that he is prepared to back candidates who are running against the NDP’s assault on the union movement demonstrates that there are militants in the CAW base who want to punish the NDP for its anti-labor policies. This is a sentiment that revolutionaries want to encourage.

Attentive readers of Socialist Worker know that the IS isn’t always so hard on Brother Buzz. The very same issue that calls for voting NDP has an article with a flattering reference to an "impressive speech" by Hargrove. It appears that, for the IS, he is only a "right-wing union bureaucrat" when he calls for a break with the NDP.

Build a Revolutionary Workers’ Party!

Whoever wins on June 8, it seems that we’re in for a period of sharp class struggle ahead. Everything under attack today—medicare, collective bargaining, unemployment insurance, access to education—was won through hard struggles against the bosses and their governments. And it will take another wave of militant mass struggles to defeat the current capitalist attacks. Most of the existing union misleadership has given little indication that it plans to do much more than roll over and play dead. Two years ago, during the Social Contract talks, leaders like Sid Ryan, CUPE’s Ontario head, huffed and puffed about province-wide strikes and a "massive" fight back. But when it came time to sign the "agreements," they all meekly waited in line.

Today, Buzz Hargrove is threatening that if the Liberals or Tories repeal the anti-scab law, "we will not hesitate to take a lot of production out of the system whether it’s legal or illegal." That is certainly the only way that further attacks are going to be stopped. But, as the history of the CAW shows, tough talk is cheap. The survival of the union movement demands a new leadership—one prepared to fight the bosses and to treat anti-labor laws with the same contempt Bob Rae showed for the "legally-binding" contracts he ripped up.

The union brass have too much of a stake in this system to contemplate a serious struggle against it. What is required is class-struggle leadership in the unions and a revolutionary workers’ party. While giving a militant lead to resistance to capitalist austerity, a fighting socialist leadership must seek to connect all such partial struggles to the ultimate necessity for a real workers’ government, one that expropriates the capitalists and establishes an economy where priorities are set on the basis of human need—not corporate profit. In this election, cast a vote for the labor candidates who are running against the NDP’s record of union-bashing!

No Vote for NDP Traitors!

Vote Flexer and Oakley!

15 May 1995

Posted: 12 December 2004