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  October 2, 2011

Ontario Elections - Is This All There Is?

Sam Gindin: The times cry out for a radical alternative to capitalism
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Sam Gindin is the former Assistant to the President of the Canadian Autoworkers Union and currently a Professor of Political Science at York University. He is a frequent contributor to Canadian Dimension, The Bullet, Alternatives, and others. Gindin authored a biography of CAW entitled The Canadian Auto Workers: Birth and Transformation of a Union

Part 2 coming on Tuesday!


PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay in Toronto. Ontario will hold a provincial election on October 6. Just what is at stake in these elections, for workers particularly? Now joining us to discuss this is Sam Gindin. Sam worked for two presidents of the Canadian Auto Workers union as an executive assistant. He's now retired. Thanks for joining us.


JAY: So how--what is at stake? How serious a danger is this in terms of the Conservatives winning? Or in fact is there really that much difference whether it's the Conservatives or the Liberals?

GINDIN: Well, there's a difference, there's a difference of degree. But what people have--the choices people have had over the last [or a] while have been varieties of neoliberalism rather than any real choices. Still, it matters. And I think one of the significant things is, given what you said earlier about Conservatives federally and in the city, the question is: is that kind of move to the right going to be ratified, endorsed in this election? And so from that perspective it's very important, I think, to reject that and reject Hudak, and in rejecting Hudak, slow down, at least, the move to the right.

JAY: Now, one of the big issues that's likely to come up in the election campaign, and certainly afterwards if the Conservatives win, but it probably will come up with the Liberals, too, which is the issue of the debt and deficit, which everyone's making a big issue out of, and which leads to another what some people have called attack on public sector workers and trying to cut the size of the public service. Is there--first of all, in terms of the campaign and what the programs are and what you expect, is there a significant difference there? And let me ask the other question: and if there is, what do you think should be the response of public sector workers, unions, and such?

GINDIN: Yeah, there's a difference. I mean, there's a message that's given if somebody like Hudak is elected. And Hudak has actually come out and argued for everything being up for grabs in terms of selling. It has nothing to do with deficits. You know, the argument about privatization is something that they argue, whether there is a deficit or not. It's about actually saying, we want to create new opportunities for accumulation in the private sector. It's about, you know, a sense, a cultural sense that what matters is profits. And what the measure of everything is is whether it's good for business and it's good for profits. There's no sense of whether it's good in terms of some sense of community, some sense of social space. So--you know, so the move to the Conservatives would be very important. But I think what we really have to recognize is this has been going on for almost 3 decades and it isn't going to be stopped, election or not. What the election is affecting is the pace of things. And the real question that has to be asked is: what else is being done to mobilize against this? You can go out and talk to people, and you do get a sense from people that they're not happy with how things are. You know, it used to be promised that over time you get a sense of material security. Right now it's permanent insecurity. That equality will improve over time in this unequal society--it's gotten infinitely worse. That democracy will matter--well, now it's--doesn't matter who you elect, you're still kind of getting small narrow range. That there's other values in society than just competitiveness and profits. And they're--you take a look at it, and there isn't. So--you know, so there's--that's what's happening out there on the street. But nothing's--it's not being expressed in any way. And I think the reason it's not being expressed is people don't actually see a way of expressing it. They vote, and they don't see much changing.

JAY: What do you make of the NDP? Now, for our American viewers, if you haven't followed some of our other Canadian stories, the New Democratic Party is a social democratic party. It used to call itself socialist, but I don't think it does anymore. But it's supposed to be the kind of left alternative to both the Conservatives and the Liberals. So is the NDP that kind of alternative?

GINDIN: No. I mean, you know, it's an alternative in the sense that compared to the other two parties it's got more workers in it, more unions in it. It's got, you know, less support from big business. But the problem is is that the way society has changed, polarization's in fact--there's been a narrowing of options. And what that means is you have to actually make some choices about which direction you're going. And the choices are actually you become more radical, or you conform to the narrow choice that everyone's been kind of drawn into in politics. And the NDP has never been willing to take on actually taking that radical step. And that radical step would mean not just having different policies, but you'd actually have to mobilize for it, you'd have to give--. You know, people are skeptical about whether it's possible. You'd have to actually inspire them, give them a sense of hope, mobilize, have a longer-term perspective. You're not going to--you know, if you're just looking at the next election, there's no way you're going to do that. But if 10 years ago, 20 years ago you would have said, we have to build another option, we have to put some real choices on the agenda, we have to challenge with actually talking about more public ownership and democratic public ownership--and even in terms of the state, not just saying we need more state, but we need a transformed state, a Democratic state--if we'd been mobilizing and educating around that, maybe we'd have some real options right now.

JAY: Well, the only--I'm not sure it's the only force, but the obvious force to have led the way on this would have come from the unions. What we've seen over the last few decades is either a sort of a continued loyalty to the NDP or this version of strategic voting to make sure the Conservatives lose. What you're seeing, I guess, leading the charge there is the Canadian Auto Workers that you used to work for. So that's the kind of two choices that are being presented. What you make of that?

GINDIN: You have to look at this in a historical way. Coming out of the Second World War, unions still had--a lot of unions still had a vision of an alternative society. A lot of--that was still on the agenda. Our unions were fairly strong coming out of the war, and so was capital. This led to some contradictions. And one of the things that was defeated in the working class was the idea of socialism as an alternative. And it was defeated in the context, well, workers were in fact able to win things within the system and thought they could do that forever. So the idea of an alternative faded. It wasn't just the NDP that faded; it was actually fading within the working-class. And what happened by the '60s and '70s was even the economic gains that workers were making, never mind radical options, were now being seen as a threat to restructuring, to the spread of capitalism, to profitability. And so they--then they went after the unions. That was what neoliberalism was about. And unions were attacked. Now, one of the crucial things about neoliberalism which does make things quite difficult is it didn't just attack workers. It actually integrated them into the system. It channeled that drive to survive into new ways. So, for example, rather than being on picket lines or on the street and fighting through collective bargaining, people began to work longer hours so they could make ends meet. Young kids stayed at home longer. Married couples saved their money and moved in with their parents until they could afford a mortgage. And, of course, people went into debt. People hope for tax cuts as a wage increase. So you began to see people finding individual ways to survive. And what that does is it reproduces neoliberalism. It reproduces that individualized culture. It means that your collective capacities--analyzing how society works, you know, picket lines, collective struggles--begin to atrophe. So the fact is we're in a mess right now because the working class is in fact very weak. It's demoralized. And when you look around and they say, well, how do we change things, the message is, well, you can't, this is all there is, this is the only alternative. And I think what we have to say is in a sense they're right: if you don't want radical change, this is the only alternative. So you have to actually make a choice. You have to make a choice between is this all there is, you know, to human life. And I guess what I would argue is that capitalism has become a barrier to human development, and we have to start talking about capitalism, that the problem isn't the particular politician to get rid of, the problem is capitalism. It's a form of organizing ourselves that we have to ask: what does this actually mean for our kids, for our grandkids, for the future? And that's what has to get on the agenda. And that's longer-term. So it's very difficult.

JAY: Okay. In the next part of our interview, let's talk about what the response of unions might be. And how do people watching this video, and they say, okay, Sam, then what should we do? So in part two, make some suggestions. So if you want to know what to do, come back for part two with Sam Gindin on The Real News Network.

End of Transcript

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