Yesterday was the worst of days for British Columbia. A government we had achingly hoped would inspire British Columbians has instead bowed to its Big Labour masters (often as reactionary as the most plutocratic tycoon), played fast and loose with its implied campaign promises (and overall economic analysis), and kicked the First Nations in the teeth once again. Reflecting on just how significant this betrayal is took me back a long time, back to the days when I realised I could never be a unionist, or a social democrat.
A Londoner, I grew up in a strongly union family: my grandfather, a railwayman, was involved in the General Strike, and both his sons — my uncle Alf who eventually became mayor of Brentford, and my Dad — though professionals, were active supporters of the Labour Party. As a very small boy I remember folding brochures for campaigns, and labour matters were always on the agenda when we visited my uncle. By my mid-teens, I was a member and volunteer at both the local Labour Party and a Transport Workers Union office. It was the mid-1960s and Harold Wilson’s white hot technological revolution was leading us all to the labourite paradise.
By then I had started to read deeply in left wing theory and history, and I developed quite the revolutionary zeal against the evils of capital and the systems of oppressive inequality that were fostered by it. I shared these thoughts and ideas at the labour hall and the Labour Party offices. And I was laughed off, brushed off, told not to worry about “abstract theory.” At first I assumed I was being ignored because I was a young kid. But I swiftly realized that the party and union leaders were plainly uninterested in the failures of the capitalist and “democratic” systems.
They didn’t want to change the systems at all, they just wanted their share of what the systems could give them and their members; seats, sinecures, and power for the party members, washing machines and a small car for the workers even if it meant sweetheart deals exploiting labour in other ways. Those leaders with intellectual pretensions argued for the value of “incremental benefits” and for the postponement of radical change until some indefinite future.
Even after this realization, I continued to make my arguments at the halls until, quite quickly, I was shuffled out the door as a malcontent.
Today, I feel just as disappointed as I did fifty-plus years ago. I am disappointed in the NDP and the unions, of course; but I am equally disappointed in myself for hoping that social democrats and big labour could ever accept real change and the challenges it offers.