Unionized workers are locked in battle with the government of Canada’s largest city. The trash is piling up, nerves are getting frayed and the mood, already pretty ugly in the summertime (when the people’s thoughts are consumed with heat and anger…and cottaging), is becoming truly frightening. If this strike goes on longer than a month, I expect people to start using the garbage mountains as fortifications and a civic war to break out. One one side, CUPE. On the other, every working person and tax payer that thinks we should all get paid the same and if someone DOES have a better wage or more perks they should apologize for it regularly.
But what’s really interesting about this isn’t who’s right and who’s wrong. Because clearly everyone is wrong. No, what’s really interesting is that the dispute seems to be happening in a vacuum. The Provincial government is staying out of it and will until it becomes politically nonviable (around the time the aforementioned war starts…about another month) and the Feds…well this is so far out of their jurisdiction that they haven’t a single reason to interrupt the golf or waterskiing to get involved. But wait…isn’t there one party that usually makes this kind of thing their business? Isn’t there one party that should, by all rights, be seizing onto this strike with both hands and riding directly onto the front page? Shouldn’t the NDP and their Torontonian leader have something to say about all this??
A quick Google search of “toronto strike” immediately returns news pieces about the strike and links to the city’s response. Add “NDP” to the search and you get…well…nothing. You get old links to past strikes, specifically last year’s York or TTC strike. And what do they say? Well, they say that the NDP supported back-to-work legislation in the TTC strike and the 2002 garbage strike but then took the moral high ground on the York strike, for some reason choosing to support the workers in that dispute. I’ll bet if you asked someone who didn’t know any better they’d guess that the NDP would have been behind the workers 3 out of 3 times. But truth is right there, if you’re a working man/woman in this province, you better hope your strike inconveniences under 50,000 people, because that’s the only way the NDP will have your back. If you happen to inconvenience the City of Toronto as a whole, you’re screwed. The NDP, the party of the worker, is just as unlikely to stick their neck out for you as any other party. Oh sure, they’ll make a big show of not supporting you. Delaying legislation here, speaking at a protest there — but it seems that when it really matters you’re on your own.
During the 2006 Liberal leadership convention, Bob Rae called the NDP “the party of protest”, but can we even call it that? Here is an issue, the garbage strike, that should fit right into the NDP’s position of standing up for average working families and they are NOWHERE in this dispute. Absolutely nowhere. The Provincial NDP has a new leader that could be making a name on this issue and she’s nowhere. The leader of the federal NDP lives in Toronto and is presumably enjoying the stink with the rest of us and he’s nowhere. Where in the world is the NDP? I’ll tell you where they are…
They’re huddled in a corner, hugging their knees to their noses, balling their eyes out ’cause they’ve finally realized that you can’t support average families (unionized workers) at the expense of average families (the citizens of Toronto). And you can take that statement almost anywhere. Average families (in the West, who hate taxes) against average families (in the East who love services), for example. They’ve realized that there’s even if there’s a moral imperative it’s not politically viable to support public sector unions, especially one like CUPE 79 and 416 who couldn’t find favourable public opinion with both hands and a GPS. So the NDP has to own up to the idea that they can either be populist or you can be a niche party, a boutique party if you will, catering to specific interests. That’s where the NDP started and there’s no reason they can’t still be that way. They’d just have to give up hope of ever being in government. But that’s the real question for them isn’t it? Do you want to be a party of principles that will never govern or throw a few old pals under the bus and try to be everyone’s friend. It seems like they’ve made the choice (provicially supporting 2 out of the last 3 back-to-work legislations)…but the NDP is clearly still hesitant. If you fuck over your base, you better have something to replace it with and the NDP absolutely does not. So they can’t completely abandon the unions, for example, but they know they can’t stick with them and get power. And if you try to play the bait-and-switch (as Bob Rae did and I suspect the Nova Scotia NDPs may be doing) and play all populist but then bring in a specific left-wing agenda…well…ask Bob Rae how that worked out.
So what’s the NDP (provincially, federally, municipally) to do? Well for one thing they’re going to have to stop trying to everything to everyone. To their credit, the NDP is the only party in parliament that’s really trying to be a national party. The Liberals are an Eastern party and always have been; the new Conservatives are the Reform party of the West and always will be. At the end of the aisle is Jack Layton, trying to appeal to the whole country at once and getting almost nothing for his effort. Any strength he might have is regional, just like the other parties. But I digress…what’s party to do?
Here’s a few ideas:
- YOU HAVE TO DECIDE WHO YOU SUPPORT: If you want to support unions, you gotta support all of them, all the time and deal with the consequences. You have to have someone’s back if you expect them to have yours. If you can no longer support unions, explain why you’ve chosen to support everyone else instead. If I was in a union right now, I wouldn’t vote NDP. Why should I? If I wanted a fairweather friend I’d vote Liberal. Sure I’d get the same backhanded support, but at least I’d be supporting someone who’s either in power, or has a chance of being in power.
- CAMPAIGN FULL TIME, ALL THE TIME: If you want to win federally, you have to stop being the opposition. There’s already a party doing that, it’s called the Liberals. They’re handling the opposition job in their own ham-fisted way and don’t really need your help. Why not try something else? Be FOR something all the time. When a reporter asks you what you think of a Conservative bill, only talk about what an comparative NDP bill would do for Canada…in detail. Waste no air telling people you don’t like the Conservatives, we all know that. And even if we didn’t know it, we’d assume. This is your chance to be on the campaign all the time. Use every opportunity to talk about the benefits of NDP governance. If Obama taught us anything, it’s that you can win by being seen to be entirely positive; even if you have all the cards stacked against you. Read that carefully…”you can win by being seen to be entirely positive”. Use this knowledge well, grasshopper.
- SHAVE THE MOUSTACHE: When I walked door-to-door for the NDP 2 or 3 elections ago, the negative comment I got most often from non-supporters was “Layton is smug”. Shaving the moustache isn’t going to fix that, but it’s start. Not being so self-superior when you trash the Conservatives would help too. Be positive all time..see Point 2.
- STOP SETTLING FOR SECOND PLACE: In a boxing match, ff you come out of the corner fearful of getting pummeled, you will lose. If you come out of the corner and the only thing you’re worried about is accidentally killing your opponent, you will win. You say you’re always campaigning to be the government, but you’ve never gone into an election with strong enough numbers to make that a reality and we all know that. As a result, many NDP campaigns (at all levels, not just picking on the Feds here) go quickly negative. With that approach, we can all see that you’re only trying to become the opposition. And maybe the “party of protest” is a natural pick for opposition, but people like a winner…and 2nd place is 1st loser and you’re not even that. Time to aim higher…this is 2009 and there’s only one way…see Point 2.
Lastly, DON’T LET A GOOD OPPORTUNITY PASS YOU BY: If the largest city if the country is starting to stink from mountains of garbage, when everyone else is on vacation and no one is trying hard to cash in on the situation…CASH THE FUCK IN!! Especially when it’s an issue everyone assumes is tailored to you. Get off your ass and get in the newspaper, lead a rally, offer to mediate the negotiations…anything. Anything would be better than sitting it out. And this is especially true for Angela Horvath. You’re new and need people to get a look at you. So get off your ass and start campaigning. Their new Tory leader has been on the job for 36 hours and already scored a sit-down with the Toronto Star where he came out squarely on the populist side of the argument. For the NDP, it’s opportunity lost.
Where they fuck are you?? Better figure out soon or in 10 years that’s what we’ll be asking about the NDP in general.
Do you remember that scrappy party that used to stand for something…what ever happened to them?