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NDP Heading Down A Precarious Path

Sid Ryan

January 18, 2021

Socialist Worker spoke to Sid Ryan, Former President of the Ontario Federation of Labour about the NDP's move to ban the proud boys.

The recent announcement by NDP leader Jagmeet Singh calling for the Proud Boys to be “banned” and branded a “terrorist organisation” is a dangerous double-edged sword that down the road could easily be brandished against the left by its political enemies. There is no doubt or argument about the fact the Proud Boys are a repugnant bunch of fascist and racist creeps who ought to be challenged whenever they crawl out from underneath their rocks. However, the way to fight their abhorrent actions is not by encouraging government to utilise tools that can easily be used to shut down and label legitimate forms of protest or civil disobedience as “acts of terrorism”. It is not a stretch to see the Doug Ford government or a future Erin O’Toole government label legitimate ‘Days of Action’ type protests or wildcat strikes in the public sector as “acts of terrorism” in particular if they cause a degree of public disruption. Likewise, the Labour Movement and their allies have traditionally utilised peaceful occupations of government offices and buildings as a legitimate form of political protest. During the Mike Harris era we saw the government allege most forms of public protest were acts of criminality and indeed they had the police shoot an unarmed Dudley George, when the Stoney Point Ojibway band occupied the Ipperwash Provincial Park over land claims. They also reserved particular scorn for the political actions of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) who very effectively took their membership into the streets to engage the authorities including the police to highlight the plight of Toronto’s homeless. These traditional and legitimate forms of civil disobedience and public protest could very well be placed in legal jeopardy by future governments if we start down the road of branding organisations we vehemently disagree with as “terrorists” or encouraging governments to ”ban” them altogether.

We need to publicly and openly engage the racists, the fascist, the neo-Nazis, the bigots, the white supremacists and others and not drive them underground where they will continue to flourish and grow their vile movements. There is no government law or edict that will defeat the evil ideologies and beliefs of the Proud Boys and their ilk. It will take the hard work of educating, mobilising and politicising the 3.4 million union members in our workplaces and communities. Of course, that means we will need a functioning Labour Movement with enough of a vision to see we are heading down the same road as the United States and therefore we need to dedicate organisational and financial resources to combat the threats these creeps present in our workplaces and communities. It will take a serious effort to pull together a Common Front of the community organisations who are already on the front lines fighting for social justice on a daily basis. I’m talking about Black Lives Matter, Urban Alliance on Race Relations, Migrant Worker organisations, Idle No More and other indigenous organisations, Workers Action Centre, Women’s organisations, OCAP and numerous others whose skills and dedicated volunteers we need to join up with the Labour Movement in the struggle for social justice and equality.

Unfortunately, the Labour Movement is not in a position to be able to play that role right now due to internal petty squabbles that has hobbled the movement’s ability to function as an effective central organiser for a Common Front. These internecine wars see union leaders pull their resources out of the central labour bodies such as the CLC and Federations of Labour and thereby, destroy their financial resources and ability to adequately reach out and mobilise their membership base or community allies. One of the ways this lack of resources manifests itself is the inability of the labour movement to effectively communicate with its 3.4 million members on social media platforms. The tiny right-wing political organisation Ontario Proud has 442,000 followers on its Facebook page compared to the CLC’s 26,000. To compound the problem there is no discernible political ideology driving the Canadian Labour Congress with its membership now splintered between the Liberals, NDP, BLOC, Quebec Solidaire and in some cases the Tories. The Socialist policies of the CCF have been expunged from the NDP and in large measure from the CLC itself. The dominant ideology now appears to be transactional where Liberal supporting unions ask government to shovel tax-payer dollars into the coffers of the wealthiest corporations in the world and in return they promote the Liberals to their membership at election time. Ditto for the union(s) who support the Tories.

It is into this vacuum of leadership and lack of direction at the CLC that the NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh announced his terrible and populist idea of banning the Proud Boys and branding them as a terrorist organisation. If we had a properly functioning Labour Congress, they could have advised the NDP leader of the Laws of Unintended Consequences and how we should not be encouraging our political enemies to pass laws that will ultimately come back to haunt the organisations who defend and advocate on behalf of the working class. If we are to defeat the racists and fascists in our midst then the Labour Movement had better get its act together before we have the emergence of a Canadian MAGA fuelled by disgruntled and disillusioned union members.

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