What’s the point of the NDP?



What’s the point of the NDP?  I ask this as a serious question.  And I’m asking it because it seems necessary, as it’s not clear to me the party or its leader actually knows.

The perfect example of this comes to us courtesy of leader Jagmeet Singh in a tweet Tuesday.

“Kristina, a single mom, was working 3 jobs before the pandemic to provide for her kids.  But now she’s down to one & is struggling to make ends meet,” Singh starts off.  So far so good, right?

Kristina seems to have had a rough go at things.  Having to work three separate jobs to keep your children fed is daunting prospect, but an admirable one.  Having a pandemic upend the world, and upend your life, and taking away your ability to survive is almost too much to fathom.  Let’s see where Singh goes with this.

“For her, a vaccine means going back to work,” he tweets.  “We need a plan for vaccines to help Kristina’s family — and others — get back to work.”

… I see.

So, let me get this straight.  The leader of the nominally social democratic party is arguing that the government is failing people, embodied in the person of Kristina, because they can’t get back to their second and third jobs, eking out a living on a precarious basis.  Have I got that about right?

(In the video attached to the tweet, Singh says one of the reason she need to work these three jobs is to pay for her kids’ dental care.  But children in Quebec, where she lives, have dental care covered by the province while they’re under the age of six.  Are Kristina’s children over 10 years old, or do Singh and the NDP not know about this?  I’m not counting out the latter.)

There are plenty of politicians in this country that are happy to make the argument that someone who needs to work three jobs should have that opportunity to survive.  Never mind if that’s good, or decent. 

But the NDP isn’t supposed to be that party.  Shouldn’t a party ostensibly on the left want to argue something a little more hopeful and humane than, “Please Mr. Prime Minister, can we solve the pandemic and get people back to the miserable grind of precarious wage labour?”

The private-sector workforce in Canada employs about 12 million people.  Of that, four million people — one-third of the private sector — work in retail, culture, or accommodation and food services.  That’s a massive section of workers who aren’t raking in huge salaries and aren’t able to work from home while COVID runs roughshod over the country.

Beyond the immediacy of the pandemic, one of the biggest crises facing people right now is the increasing precarity of their work.  For several years now — here’s a Globe and Mail story from 2015 — the alarm has be raised about the increase of “on-call scheduling.”  Where someone will have to sit by the phone to see if they’ll be working that day.  The explosion of data analytics has given employers the ability to track things like sales and customer habits and traffic.  What this also means is they can figure out, almost in real time, the exact number of people they’re going to need on the job on any given day.  Naturally, because they want to spend the absolute bare minimum on their staff, they wait until the last possible moment to call someone in for a shift.

So you can wake up in the morning not knowing whether you will be going into work that day.  And if you should miss the call, tough luck, they’ll move onto the next person.

Then we have the proliferation of app-based labour, the so-called “gig economy.”  Uber, Doordash, Skip the Dishes, all of these companies rely on their actual workers to not be employees, instead they’re all independent contractors.  This means they don’t have to provide things like health benefits or retirement plans or a fleet of vehicles to drive.

In California, these companies have just been able to push through a new law through a plebiscite — Proposition 22 — that codifies this in law.  They were able to get this passed thanks to a massive spending spree on advertising — propaganda, really — and are now looking to get similar laws passed elsewhere. Canada, no doubt, makes a ripe target.

What this means is that people in an increasingly large part of the economy — even more so, thanks to the acceleration of delivery and the like in this pandemic — are working without any benefits, driving their own vehicles into the ground.  All the while their nominal employers get to crush, excuse me “disrupt,” the businesses they’re supplanting.

And let’s not forget the increasing noise Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole is making about courting working people.  It matters less if Tory policies are shaped in ways that actually don’t help people on the lower rungs of the economy, when they’re the only party trying to speak to working people.

So we must return to Singh.

Back in the early days of the pandemic, all the way back in March, we found ourselves suddenly in the middle of a massive economic catastrophe.  Everything had to close, and it wasn’t clear where people would get the money to pay for things like food and rent.

In stepped our valiant leader of the New Democratic Party.

“With the first of the month just days away, we sent a letter to the Prime Minister asking for a pause on rent, mortgage and utility payments,” Singh tweeted.  “Renters, landlords, and homeowners urgently need our help right away.”

The thing is, there are plenty of parties out there to advocate for “landlords and homeowners” — they’re called Liberals and Tories.

So what is the point of the NDP?  The answer to that question rests with Singh.  It’s clear he does not know the answer.

Photo Credit: CBC News

More from Robert Hiltz.     @robert_hiltz

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