In the fall of 1974, the League for Socialist Action/Ligue Socialist Ouvriere and the Young Socialists/Ligue des Jeunes Socialistes ran candidates in municipal elections in 5 cities – Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Edmonton, and Vancouver.
In preparation for the multi-city campaign the organization reviewed previous municipal election programs and made a number of important changes in how it explained key aspects of the revolutionary socialist program. The report below summarized the main points of the discussion.
After this discussion, the League wrote and published similar campaign brochures for each campaign, with appropriate modifications to meet the specific needs of each city. For an example, see the 1974 Toronto Municipal Campaign Brochure.
We have also posted some of Labor Challenge’s articles on the campaign.
OUR CIVIC ELECTION PROGRAM
The following report by George Addison was adopted by the September 12, 1974 meeting of the Political Committee. It is being circulated for the information of Central Committee members.
I am dealing here with the general framework of our civic campaign programs across the country. It is not the purpose of this report to get into the specific application of our program in each area, or into how we are carrying the campaigns.
The basic purpose of our campaign is propagandistic. That is, we aim to popularize our program and ideas, to get our organization better known, to build our periphery and to attract potential recruits for the League and the YS/LJS.
Thus, the basic considerations of how we campaign are how the campaigns can best build our organization, both in winning new forces and in educating our members. This shouldn’t be lost in the many activities of the campaigns. We are out to promote some of our basic ideas. We are not a mass party, that can lead agitation around a few select issues. We are out to make the general case against capitalism and for socialism.
Our campaigns seek opportunities to win a hearing for our ideas by gearing into specific problems and struggles around specific demands, as we did around the Kenora occupation. In civic election meetings, candidates emphasize a small number of key points. But the basic program of the campaign, which we will print and distribute to the largest number possible, should present the full breadth of our program.
There have been some problems with the framework of some of our past campaigns. Some campaigns appeared to be trying to show the NDP what a mass party could do on the municipal level. This had us taking positions on everything, from the election of the metro Toronto chairman to the need for city fire insurance. This can get in the way of what we are really trying to accomplish.
Another problem has been to pose our campaign as just an extension of the NDP. The 1972 Toronto campaign brochure reads: "The only way to defeat the ‘corporate bums’ is through independent labor political action—the challenge posed by the NDP federally and provincially. It has been left to the League for Socialist Action and the Young Socialists to present that alternative in this civic election."
To begin with, the NDP only poses "independent labor political action" in a limited, organizational sense, and not at all programmatically. As well, while we want to pose ourselves as a labor alternative, we are not the NDP. Nor are we simply a stand-in for the NDP. Our campaign explains the need for socialist solutions, for a revolutionary party.
Another problem is reducing our basic demands to only those which can be accomplished by a city government. For example, the 1972 Toronto campaign brochure limits our demands on inflation to a sliding scale for civic workers. On unemployment, the only demand is for a "massive program of public works..." Missing in this case is the sliding scale of hours, and the sliding scale of hours and wages for all workers.
We want to break from this limited constitutional framework. Our program is made up both of demands on the present government and a program of action for workers and their allies. Nothing at all will be solved on the municipal levels We pose the need for working-class power, not just at the civic level, but also provincially and federally.
That is not to say that we ignore civic issues. We try to take them, research them, and show the links between them and the general problems. The 1972 Toronto program correctly sought to do this, and provides several good examples for this year’s campaigns—as well as some examples where its demands missed the mark. The Edmonton comrades are doing a good job exposing the corruption of City Council, showing how this is the norm for big-business rule, and posing the need for socialism.
Generally, we want to root our demands in the problems of the city, of workers and tenants, in the issues that are raised by the bourgeois and NDP candidates in the election. That way we can be relevant to the campaigns as they evolve. But our solutions go far beyond the civic framework.
We have done this very well in the past in linking the Vietnam war with city politics. We said that Vietnam was an overriding social question for all levels of government. Then we pointed out how the city was backing U.S. genocide by refusing the antiwar movement the right to march down major streets, by refusing to take a stand against the war and Canada’s complicity in it.
One thing that helps us break from the narrow framework of municipal politics is the fact that we are running candidates simultaneously in a number of cities. We should use the press in particular to draw the general lessons and tie the campaigns together around some broad themes. One good example was the joint declaration by our four mayoralty candidates on the Kenora Indian occupation.
In the past, we have run parallel campaigns of the LSA/LSO for mayor and council, while running YS/LJS campaigns for Boards of Education. This can create certain problems for us, of duplication and misunderstandings. We should run one campaign, of the League, for all positions. The YS/LJS does not pose itself as the nucleus of an organization that will contest for state power. We should make use of YS/LJS members as candidates, particularly for the school board. There may also be opportunities in some areas to establish committees of "Young Socialists for .... and ....." to build support for the campaign among youth and students, and help recruit young campaigners to the YS/LJS.
The question of government
We have had some good experiences lately in giving precision to our governmental slogan in Canada. Our understanding of this allowed us to polemicize effectively against the RMG during the federal election campaign. On the civic level, however, the question of government is more complex.
We have formulated the governmental question in some different ways in the past. For example, most of the past campaign materials I looked at were headlined "For a Labor City Hall." The 1969 and 1972 Toronto campaigns used the slogan "For a Labor Socialist City Hall." There are some problems with these slogans.
The term "City Hall" is used in past election programs to designate both the state at the municipal level, and the elected governmental bodies. We should use it to refer to the state, its cops, boards, and other bodies. Now it is correct to call for a working class government, but totally incorrect to suggest that the apparatus of the state on the municipal level can change its class character and become working class — except by a Canada-wide overturn of capitalism. The slogan for a "labor City Hall" leaves open whether we are talking about the government or the state. We should use the term "City Hall" to refer to the state apparatus on the civic level: cops, boards, councils, bureaucracy, etc.
The word "labor" in this slogan also contains an ambiguity. In some cases, it is used to refer to a workers government: "a city government that fights in working people’s interests." In other cases it refers to an NDP government at the civic level.
The slogan "For a labor socialist city government" was first used in the 1969 Toronto campaign leaflet. The NDP was running only a partial slate. We ran candidates where they would not be in competition with the NDP slate, and called for a vote for NDP and LSA candidates. At first the slogan, featured on the front side of the leaflet, appears to be merely another way of saying we call for a working class city government.
But the body of the leaflet explains the concept quite differently. After noting the NDP’s failure to run a full slate, it continues, "Thus the LSA and the YS have filled out the labor-socialist slate by nominating candidates for mayor, alderman and school board. In doing so, we have ensured that the working people of Toronto have the means to make working class power at city hall a reality in 1969."
It is not incorrect to call for a vote for NDP and LSA candidates, or to explain how the NDP and LSA slates each present a working class alternative — though we should point out that they do so in very different ways. But it is quite wrong to say that "working class power at city hail" — or even a working class city government — can be achieved by voting for NDP candidates, or for a combination of NDP and LSA candidates. Nor did the leaflet explain what political program was required to establish a workers city government. A reader might easily conclude that we thought the election of a majority of NDP candidates, with their reformist program, would "make working class power a reality." A reader might think that we would advocate a coalition of the LSA with the reformist NDP council members — that we would advocate that LSA council members participate in such a city government.
I don’t think this is what the comrades had in mind in 1969! For us to enter such a coalition, such a bourgeois government, would be a violation of principle.
In the 1972 Toronto elections, the NDP ran no slate. The LSA campaign leaflet used the phrase "for a labor-socialist city hall," but in a totally different context: "The LSA candidates ... advocate a socialist program that poses working class power at city hall." The leaflet corrects the error of the 1969 leaflet, but the concept of a "labor socialist" city government remains unclear. It does not relate to any existing working class organizations. It seems to imply a call for an "LSA government" — and in today's conditions, this is a sectarian formulation of our workers government slogan.
We should call for a workers city government, one that fights in the interests of working people, in the context of the fight for a workers and farmers government in Ottawa and the provinces.
We should also call for an NDP city administration. This doesn’t have much agitational value where the NDP is not running, or where it is running only a small slate. But the call for an NDP government remains a valuable way to concretize our concept of workers power in the context of the present organizations of the working class. There does not appear to be any other form of independent labor political action on the horizon in English Canada.
We should give critical support to NDP candidates who are running on the party label. There may be some borderline cases where NDPers are running with party backing where there is no slate, where we might consider critical support.
There is no way we can give critical support to Communist Party candidates. They are opposed in principle to political parties on the civic level, and always run as "progressive" individuals. Their program is one of class-collaboration, which we cannot support.
There may be candidates of some of the small ultraleft groups. There is in most cases no reason for us to give them critical support. That would ,just give them more attention than they deserve.
Possible RMG candidates pose another question. My general feeling is that we should hesitate before giving critical support to them in civic elections. These are different from the federal election, where the broad questions for the working class were posed. There is nothing automatic about supporting them.
I think it is worthwhile to take a look at some of the errors we have made in our demands in the past campaigns. This enables comrades to correct them easily, as well as recognizing the generally correct thrust of the program as a whole. This critique is based on the 1972 Toronto campaign leaflet, reprinted in Labor Challenge, which was, in my opinion, the best municipal campaign to date.
Board of Education
The 1972 program is quite full and good on education. There is, however, one major problem. Missing from the program is the concept of student-teacher-staff control of the schools. Instead we posed: "We want the Board to turn the schools into instruments for social change."
This puts the concept in the wrong framework. We think it is the struggles of the students, teachers and staff — not the decrees of the board of education — which can transform the schools into instruments for social change.
I would like to raise a question about a sentence in the section "Free Education," a question which we should not decide tonight but hold over for further discussion. The section concludes, "free education can be paid for by taxing the ‘corporate bums’ now." It is sometimes useful to reply in this way to the question, "Where is the money to come from?" This is what the text aims to do. But we must understand that "tax the corporations" is not one of our central mobilizing demands here.
In my view, to emphasize this demand, (e.g. "Free education now — tax the corporations") tends to give something to the big business claim that the government lacks the resources to carry out this reform. It can also divert the struggle into a discussion of how to finance the needed changes, rather than focusing on pressure on the government to carry them out.
The best way to handle the taxation question in our program is in general to shift the tax burden from working people to the rich.
A problem in past programs was limiting the demand for public housing to construction of new housing, leaving out the enormous stock of quality housing owned by the big landlords, developers, banks, etc. An example of this problem comes from the 1972 Toronto campaign: "A sufficient stock of top quality public housing under tenant control must be built to force down all rents to no more than 20 percent of occupiers’ net income..." Of course the question of public housing is posed today primarily in the controversy over new home construction, and we adjust to this fact by emphasizing the call for a massive program of public housing construction. But we do not stop there. Posing public housing only in construction would mean private domination of the market for a long time—even if all new housing were public. Moreover, an "island" of public housing in a capitalist market will not "drive down rents" for private housing. The landlords would find many ways to charge higher rents, and the public sector’s rents would follow the capitalist market.
Rather, we should call for expropriation of the assets of the giant corporations who build and own housing, to take the private profit out of housing. Of course, we do not attack the small homeowner.
One problem appeared in the 1972 program, around "protective legislation" for women workers. "The Ontario Human Rights Code is ignored by employers — even the city, Toronto’s biggest employer, has been charged with discrimination for forcing women employees to retire five years before men. Enforce the Human Rights Law..." The implication here is that we are against women retiring at 60 instead of 65. Rather, we should call for the extension of such protective legislation to all workers.
So reads the 1972 program. These demands are incorrect. We want to expose the police through our demands. The police force is a repressive force, designed to protect property rights and smash opposition to capitalism. It cannot be reformed; it must be abolished and replaced with workers militias. The latter demand is not understandable today, and thus there is no point raising it. But we should not raise demands that reinforce the illusion that the police can be controlled by the "public," or that a disarmed police force would not threaten police violence.
We should demand the elimination of special repressive forces where their role is publicly known and specified. In cases of police brutality, we should call for independent workers’ inquiries, and for the opening of police records.
Generally, we avoid taking positions in the abstract on governmental structure. We prefer to pose real solutions, which would imply destruction of the state apparatus. An example of getting into trouble on this point is in the 1972 Toronto brochure: "It’s time to totally reconstruct civic administration, based on genuine representatives of Toronto’s working people. A small beginning would be the popular election of the Metro Chairman."
In general, we are for election rather than appointment of public officials, and we can raise this demand when it relates to some controversy or political issue. But it is certainly not the kind of "restructuring" that we are talking about in the quotation, nor is it a beginning. In addition, the word "restructuring" can be misleading: we aim to replace the present apparatus with a new one, not remold the existing material.
The 1972 program calls for a "municipal capital gains tax to eliminate profit from land speculation." Such a tax would hardly eliminate profit; its first effect would be to boost prices. The program also calls for a "municipal medicare program" which is irrelevant due to the existence of provincial government medical insurance. We should call for free clinics, including abortion and birth control.
We want to call for an end to tax exemptions for big business, private clubs, and churches, and the lifting of the tax burden from the small homeowner.
Our past campaigns have been pretty good programmatically, aside from the specific problems I have enumerated. Our next step is to write a program in this framework that can be used by the comrades as something of a model in all areas, and filled in with local data and issues. This is what we are doing with the Edmonton program, which should be completed shortly.
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