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Leo Panitch: All parties are pledging to help small business, but that’s where workers have the least rights

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Toronto. Ontario will elect a new provincial government. And what’s at stake for Ontarians? Now joining us to discuss this is Leo Panitch. Leo is a professor at York University. He’s also the author of the book In and Out of Crisis: The Global Financial Meltdown and the Left Alternative. Thanks for joining us again.


JAY: Okay. So you live in Ontario. What’s at stake?

PANITCH: Not much. The range of alternatives that’s being offered in the wake of the most severe economic crisis since the 1970s–really, the fourth great crisis in capitalism’s history, which was felt so massively here, despite the fact our banking system didn’t collapse–but our auto industry did. And although there’s been some recovery, it’s been a recovery on the basis of the workers’ backs. A lot of stuff is being given away. So, you know, the range of options is astonishingly narrow.

JAY: So describe what are the options and why they’re so narrow.

PANITCH: You know, we have a typically boring Tory alternative to an existing Liberal government that walks around saying that small business are the job creators. And we have a Liberal government that, while not reactionary, has not done nearly enough to restore the appalling cutbacks that occurred in the 1990s under a previous Tory government. And we have an NDP that is against raising taxes.

JAY: Alright. Now, just to be clear, NDP is Canada’s social democratic government, for our–not government; party–for our American viewers.

PANITCH: It’s the New Democratic Party. Their national leader just died. His name was Jack Layton. He’s a former Toronto civic politician, extremely popular. And they’ve been riding on the enormous wave of sentiment associated with this relatively young man dying of cancer after a great triumph at the federal election last spring. But they’re–you know, they’re offering a politics which also was oriented to we will be fiscally stable. As they see, by the way, Obama saying, we have to have another stimulus, they then followed meekly in his tracks. But generally they try to prove that they’re also budget balancers. And they also pick up the small-business thing. So there’s very little choice.

JAY: Now, organizations like the Canadian Auto Workers and a lot of other unions, they point to the years of the last Conservative government under Harris, and that there were significant right-wing reforms under Harris, and that they made a difference to life in Ontario, and that if you have a Harper federal government and a right-wing populist mayor of Toronto, which are already there, and you add to that a Conservative government in Ontario, that’s significant.

PANITCH: That’s not good. And what makes it worse is that Toronto elected a extremely right-wing populist yahoo as its mayor.

JAY: This is Rob Ford.

PANITCH: This–his name is Rob Ford. The brains behind the throne is his brother Doug Ford. They really are Tea Party type businessmen. And, sure, at all three levels, in a defensive sense, one wants to say would be better if the Liberals or the NDP prevented another Tory government from coming in. Sure. No question. But, you know, that–what’s at stake in that context is things shouldn’t be quite as bad as they might be. You would expect in the context of this crisis that you’d have some positive alternatives that really could galvanize people. You know, you could expect that politicians would, in the wake of this crisis, be explaining to people how did this happen, you know, and why don’t the banks work for them. You would expect that in Ontario, which is centered on the health of the financial sector–Toronto’s Bay Street is New York’s Wall Street, and some of the financial services have been moving to Bay Street because we didn’t get the kind of hit that Wall Street did–you would think that people would be interested in, my God, why don’t we have some control over the finances that pass through Bay Street so we could do some economic planning of a kind that would really turn auto plants into producing wind turbines. The Liberals have been running on a platform that they have brought Samsung in with their friends on Bay Street to engage over the next 25 years in the building of a lot of solar energy technology, and they’re being hammered by the other parties because it’s very vague how many jobs it’s going to create, what kind of jobs it’ll create. One of their solar plants that they funded just went bankrupt this week, a day after the premier visited it as an election stop–or laid off all the workers. So you could do a lot more. And you just get the sense that, you know, when you watch the debates, the range of alternatives is astonishingly narrow.

JAY: Well, that’s the problem with the NDP, ’cause if there’s–I mean, the Liberals and Conservatives are–you know, they don’t make any bones. They’re essentially corporate-financed corporate parties of one sort or another. The NDP says they’re something else.

PANITCH: And they slightly are, insofar as they have a labor base. At the federal level, the Harper Conservative government, with now having a majority, has been–as soon as workers exercise their right to strike and meticulously follow the law as to under what conditions they can go out on strike if employers are stonewalling them, they now for the third time in the last few months have told the union that if they do go out on strike, they’ll legislate them back to work. They’ll pass a special piece of legislation that’ll take away the worker’s general rights in the legislation for that group of workers, right, for that period of time. Imagine. Right? You have freedom of speech, except you don’t have it this week. Right? And that’ll happen here as well if a Tory government comes in, although the Liberals have done it once or twice as well.

JAY: What have you make of the strategic voting position, then? Like, for example–and in the unions, a couple of unions, like Steelworkers and CUPE, are just campaigning for the NDP. Canadian Auto Workers and a couple of others are saying, no, vote strategically; whoever can defeat the Conservative in your riding, whether liberal or NDP, you should pick and vote for that. And essentially what they’re saying is there isn’t enough difference between the Liberals and the NDP to not allow–not to vote strategically.

PANITCH: Well, what I was going to say was that the NDP took a very good position on defending workers’ right to strike, and that reflects their base in labor. A remarkably good position. They conducted a filibuster. They tried to hold up–

JAY: This is when they tried to hold back the postal workers.

PANITCH: –the postal workers. And they took a very good position on this. And they would here in Ontario as well. So that’s a reason to, you know, try to support the NDP as strongly as you can. I certainly understood people voting in the 1990s to get Harris out. He was the Tory premier here, the Conservative premier here, extremely reactionary. And one could understand strategic voting. The thing is, it’s not organized strategically voting. If it were organized strategic voting, so the NDP and Liberals were running against each other, you could be sure it was going to have some effect. But when the leader of the Canadian Auto Workers says, we’re going to do this, you know, he’s doing it in a context where he identifies ten NDP seats which are currently held. And then he says, we’ll support the Liberals in the others. But the NDP’s still running against the Liberals in the others, and they’re going to split the vote. Now, one has to say it’s looking good in this negative sense. The polls are showing that the NDP has increased their vote by something like 10 percent, from below 20 to almost 30. The Tories, which were pushing 40 percent in the polls, you know, voting in polls, are back–are down to the low to mid 30s. And the Liberals are holding in the low 30s. Then the Liberals can’t get a majority government if the NDP is in the high 20s. And the result of this may be some sort of coalition, whether–.

JAY: You mean a minority government?

PANITCH: Well, maybe a minority government with NDP support, or it actually may mean–is ’cause the NDP’s main politics now is that we want people to take us as being responsible.

JAY: But it could still be what happened in the federal election. A stronger NDP means a majority Conservative government, ’cause it’s such a split vote.

PANITCH: It could be. It depends how it splits. It depends how it splits.

JAY: Which is why CAW and those type of unions are saying, you know, even though you might want to vote NDP, if you’re in a riding, the Liberals got a better chance of win, vote Liberal. I mean, do you–what do you make of that?

PANITCH: Yeah, I think you can’t control it, insofar as they’re running against each other. I mean, you just can’t control it. I mean, don’t think because Ken Lewenza, who’s leader of the Canadian Auto Workers, says that the union’s going to do this that all that many autoworkers vote the way he tells them to. He doesn’t have that kind of–he has the influence over staff, but not a lot. So I don’t think it has that great an effect. I was going to come back, though, to the central theme that runs through both the NDP and Tory campaigns, although in different ways, and that is the support for small business. And it shows the NDP as being extremely contradictory and confused in their ideology. On the one hand, they’re saying they want to support small business, they are the job creators–although one has to be very careful with this. Yes, more jobs are created by small business, but more jobs are lost by small business, ’cause they keep–they go bankrupt more often. So there’s a lot of turnover, and it looks like a lot of jobs are created. But what’s more important is though the NDP’s in favor of collective bargaining rights, benefits for workers, etc., the small businesses are precisely those that are nonunionized, that are paying minimum wages, that are employing most of what is now known as the precariat, those workers who are in precarious jobs, right, working part-time without any guarantees or security of employment, etc. And this is completely confused and contradictory. Now, it sounds like I’m picking on the left, but I think one has to. I mean, one depends–in a parliamentary system, where what little we have of democracy amounts to voting for a career politician every four years, right, what can one do but expect that the left party–you know, that party which has a base in the unions that gets its membership and donations from the left, you expect them to offer people some vision, some imagination, some fire, some ambition, and they don’t. And that strikes me–I mean, even though you’re right to be pointing to the danger of the right getting in, it strikes me as extremely unfortunate that they play this kind of center-left role. Of course, you see it in the United States with Obama to a T, and there’s really no difference.

JAY: Thanks for joining us.

PANITCH: Good, Paul.

JAY: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network. And don’t forget the donate button, ’cause if you don’t do that, we can’t do this.

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