Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Canada's Democratic Party? Is it still labour?

News that Canada's NDP is considering dropping the "New" from their name has been out for a while, and its something I've been mulling over. While a name may be just a name, it strikes me that dropping the 'New' is a splendid idea. Branding is very much in vogue, having branched out from products to buildings to people...and now to politics. To those who might think branding is unimportant, recall how quickly the new Conservatives dropped the name Canadian Reform Alliance Party, or CRAP for short.

I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with the moniker NDP, but Canada's Democratic Party has more resonance. It may just help them expand their tent and attract more voters, particularly if it comes in tandem with stated initiatives to develop progressive policies while engaging both young and minority voters. During their upcoming national convention the NDP should also be looking at better communicating their message using social media.

The great unknown is whether or not they'll be able to expand their support beyond their usual union base...new name or not. There are many Canadians who are uncomfortable identifying themselves with a labour party. Its ironic given that the overwhelming majority of Canadians aren't in fact capitalists.

What??? Not capitalists??? Of course we're capitalists!!!

No you're not, excepting perhaps 5-10% of the total population. Capitalists use their money to make money. Capitalists put their financial resources to work to earn a living and increase their net worth.

The remaining 90-95% of us are labourers, taking whatever skills we have have into the marketplace and exchanging work for capital. It doesn't matter whether the skill is accounting or brick laying, baby sitting or working in a bank. If you're livelihood depends on a pay cheque, then you're a labourer.

Those who see themselves as professionals often have trouble with this simple distinction. Whether it be through education or special training, many like to see themselves as being a level above "labour". In point of fact some are to a marginal degree, endeavouring to make investments that will augment their income. But if one's investments aren't sufficient to supply enough capital to live on in an on going fashion...then they're labourers and not capitalists in the purest sense.

And therein is the greatest challenge for Jack Layton and Canada's Democrats - they really should adopt the new name, it sounds so much better - to attract Canada's middle and upper middle class. Those people selling their wage labour in the market, but getting more money in the exchange.

Its a difficult row to hoe right now, given the level of resentment many Canadians have for the union movement. But it is one that can be navigated I believe. Obama managed to keep unions on side in the United States, while still attracting significant numbers of more affluent labourers who don't see the need for collective bargaining.

Democrats in the US, Democrats in Canada....they wouldn't be the same, but the Canadian version could take some cues from our southern neighbours.

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