By Ryan McGreal
Published March 09, 2009
I have to disagree respectfully with this piece by Trey Shaughnessy on Andrea Horwath's win at this weekend's Ontario NDP leadership convention.
I'm happy to see Horwath talking in the language of the party's roots. There's nothing sadder than former left-wing parties embracing "middle way" politics and selling out to win power.
Think, for example, of Tony Blair's Labour Party in Britain, which ended up tagging along with the Bush administration's "War on Terror", imposing draconian new controls on British civil society and abandoning its own progressive economic roots.
The real role of the NDP in Ontario has traditionally to be the Legislature's conscience - to keep pressure on issues of equity, workers' rights, social justice, and environmental protection while the mainstream parties cater mainly to business interests.
Trey wrote, "Workers' rights are already law." I think it's dangerously naive to assume that just because we have laws on the books, workers no longer need protection.
I'm fortunate today to have a well-paying job with a respectful work environment; but I've worked enough low-end jobs for less-than-enlightened employers to know that this is a privilege, and that it's a constant struggle to protect workers from employers who casually ignore labour laws.
For a single example, I used to work in the restaurant industry. I was fortunate to be unionized, but it was and remains common to make servers pay out of their own pockets if a customer orders something and then changes their mind after it has been prepared (I heard about a case of this just yesterday), or if customers dine-and-dash. That's illegal, but its quite common in non-unionized restaurants (i.e. most of them).
The problem is that most of these workers have very little recourse to do anything about it - other than trying to find a job somewhere else, which is not always an option and, in any case, difficult to arrange while working long hours for low wages. (For a wrenching account of this issue, I highly recommend Barbara Ehrenreich's book Nickel and Dimed.)
Most of these jobs are non-unionized, so strengthening labour law cannot be dismissed as a union-based party acting in its own interests. In fact, stronger labour laws actually reduce the need for unions - the fact that unions still support them says something about the stereotypes we hold about unions.
I've had a few occasions to observe Horwath and I've always been impressed. She's smart, feisty, has strong leadership skills, good instincts as a former community organizer, and a track record of progressive legislative initiatives that cross party lines and demonstrate the creativity Trey is asking for.
In fact, I thought it strange that he drew a contrast with US President Barack Obama, considering their many similarities. Obama:
I look forward to see how Horwath leads the party. Enough time has passed since the Bob Rae government to give the NDP a fresh star.
Perhaps more important, it seems that parties all across the spectrum have recently embraced the very Keynesian counter-cyclical stimulus spending for which Rae was so bitterly castigated during and after his term as Premier. Trey claims that the NDP's brand of politics has less relevance now, yet it seems we're all suddenly social democrats.
With the provincial Conservatives in disarray, it may be time for the NDP to show its stuff and make some gains - even if only to keep the Liberals on the straight and narrow against the inevitable coming pressure to tilt to the right.
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