When labour prestige is misused

 [[{“value”:”Beware of leaders who would ride on labour’s coat tails, only to take a stance against workers once they are in power.
The post When labour prestige is misused appeared first on rabble.ca.”}]] [[{“value”:”

Although the labour movement is one of history’s great creations, on balance a force for justice and progress inspired by the resonant slogan “An injury to one is an injury to all,” it can, like any other human creation, be twisted and betrayed. And some labour leaders have, over the years, misused the moral influence and gravitas  that accrue to them because of their roles in labour to endorse evil and retrograde policies, often in an attempt to advance a career in electoral politics or to pander to the worst currents of popular racism.

Most rabble readers will be familiar with some of these betrayals, such as labour endorsement of Japanese internment during WWII, Chinese Head taxes and other Asian exclusion strategies  and the collusion of too many labour leaders in the Canada’s version of Cold War McCarthyism that led to purges of workers and leaders perceived as “too Red”

or “too gay.” Some rank-and-file union members in BC still resent the way that leadership of the BC Federation of Labour sabotaged the build-up to a possible general strike in 1983 during the Solidarity fightback. More recently some labour leadership has been lured into climate change denial to “protect” jobs, even at the risk of ravaging the planet. So, if some labour figures today go over to the dark side and promote essentially racist attitudes toward temporary foreign  workers, refugees and immigrants, or endorse retrograde positions on culture war issues, we should not be too surprised. We have been here before.

And yet, in the workers’ movement we have made substantial progress, turning decisively against some of the vile causes and initiatives that have had labour support in the past. We have campaigned, at our best, not to exclude workers from offshore coming to Canada to work, but to invite them into our unions and to forbid the nightmares of exploitation and abuse that the employer class is eager to inflict on our sisters and brothers from abroad.

We have created educational programs to target and reduce racism and sexism   in the workplace, in our unions and in immigration policy. We have kept our eyes on the class nature of our society and tried not to support initiatives that serve the interests of employers by dividing us against each other. It has been too slow and partial, often, but the progress has been real.

In times of social tumult and economic disarray, people get frightened  and more tempted to support draconian policies than we would when times are easier. It is sad, then, to see the current spate of mainstream media enthusiasm for Brad West,  the mayor of Port Coquitlam, BC, an enthusiasm based on the photogenic young politician’s willingness to endorse right-wing positions on fraught topics like immigration and drug policies. (Full disclosure: I knew West some when he worked for USW, and we did some work together on a publication.) Such coverage usually opens by citing West’s past affiliation with the labour movement and the provincial NDP and then goes on to celebrate his retrograde policy musings. In 2023,  Business in Vancouver exulted “Brad West breaks ranks with his NDP brethren on decriminalization of drugs” West’s public ruminations about drug policy got a thorough critique recently

from Dustin Godfrey on The Bind website.

In fact, the mayor has become such a poster boy for the Right that there was a spate of rumors in BC recently that he might be drafted to lead a new right wing provincial coalition fusing BC United and the newly launched BC Conservatives.

Although the rumors were quickly denied, the fact that a former union and NDP staffer was even considered says a lot about how fond the provincial Right is of West, and how much his former union and NDP involvement makes him a delightful talking point for those who want to discredit much of what we have accomplished in labour over the past decades and suggest that right-wing parties are the real friends of working people. They are not.

It is of course a mug’s game to try to know the heart of another, so I will not say I know with certainty that the political road Brad West has taken is explicitly opportunistic and self-serving. I will say, however, that if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it just  might be… If West is not consciously opportunistic, he is being misused by his new right-wing fans. The labour movement has earned a level of popular respect over the years, and it is sad to see that prestige twisted and used in an attempt to undermine our best achievements and values. We can only hope that brother West will come to his senses and come back over to the right side of history.

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