Dans cet article, l'auteur examine les relations qui existent entre le Congrès du travail du Canada et le Nouveau Parti Démocratique ainsi qu'entre la Fédération américaine du travail et le Parti Démocratique aux États-Unis. Après avoir souligné les principales caractéristiques de ces relations dans les deux pays, l'auteur procède à l'examen de trois facteurs majeurs pouvant expliquer les différences respectives. Dans une dernière partie, il tente d'évaluer le succès obtenu par chaque forme d'action politique.
The object of this article is to compare the political action of the Canadian Labor Congress (CLC) with that of the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO). The analysis is conducted in three steps. Part I describes the situation prevailing in each country. The second Part presents some factors that can explain the differences between the two situations. Finally, the third Part consists in an evaluation of the success obtained by each form of political action.
To obtain an evaluation of the different nature of the relationships between organized labor and political parties in the United States and Canada, four points of comparison are used : a) the political structure of the respective labor movements ; b) the relations between labor's political structure and political parties ; c) the strategy used by each labor organization to influence the rank and file vote ; d) the kind of party supported, officially or not, by each labor organization.
The political structures of the CLC and the AFL-CIO are approximately the same, formally at least. The CLC's Political Education Department was formed at the 1956 merging convention of the Trades and Labor Congress and the Canadian Congress of Labor; the AFL-CIO's Committee on Political Education (COPE) was formed in the same circumstances.
Both start at the bottom level with the local unions where the basic economic functions are exercised and where the union members' main preoccupations are concentrated. From there on it moves to county, city or regional districts. The third step in the hierarchy is the state level in the United States and the provincial level in Canada, and at the top of the pyramid we find the national COPE in the United States and the Political Education Department in Canada.
The relationships between the respective political structures and political parties present considerable « official » differences but these differences are greatly reduced when is considered what is happening in practice. In Canada, the CLC is officially committed to one particular party — the New Democratic Party — although affiliation to the party is left within the local unions' discretion contrary to the situation prevailing in Great Britain where the decision to affiliate is taken at the top level of the labor organization. About 20% of the total CLC membership is affiliated to the NDP concentrated mainly in large industrial unions such as the United Automobile Workers and the Steel Workers which account for 56% of the total affiliated members and in Ontario where 65% of the affiliated members are located.
Officially, the American labor movement is neutral in politics and continues to « reward its friends and to punish its enemies » in the same traditional fashion initiated by Gompers. Practically much more « friends » are within the Democratic Party than the Republican Party and it can be said that the AFL-CIO is now as much committed to the election of Democratic candidates as the CLC Is to the election of NDP candidates.
Despite the CLC commitment to endorse the NDP and despite its financial aid to the party, the most common means of influencing the rank and file vote is a simple oral appeal to the members. The only practical and effective support given by the grass-root political committees at the provincial and local levels comes from the 20% membership affiliated to the NDP. In the United States, COPE engages itself into a wide range of activities that go from ringing doorbells to running a candidate's race. These activities are outlined in COPE's political action handbook, convincingly entitledHow To Win ? The four most important are : a) the registration of union members, their relatives and their friends ; b) the education of union members on issues and candidates; c) the efforts to get the members to vote on election day ; d) the collection of voluntary dollars for COPE to help elect liberal candidates. It is to be noted that in the United States unions' spending for political purposes are regulated closely by a Corrupt Practices Act (Smith-Connally) while in Canada, except in British Columbia and Prince Edward Island, no specific legislation prevents unions' spending for political purposes.
In Canada, the CLC support is given to a third and minority party while in the United States this support is given mainly to one of the two major parties. An important advantage for the American labor movement is that it can have direct access to one of the ultimate sources of power, the Congress. However the apparent disadvantage of the CLC is compensated by the different distribution of legislative powers between the provincial and federal legislatures in Canada.
The different characteristics of each labor organization's political action can be explained mostly by three institutional variables : the different systems of government ; the distribution of legislative power ; the ideological orientation of the political parties.
In the United States, « rewarding labor's friends and punishing labor's enemies » individually make some sense because individual Senators and Congressmen vote on each measure according to their individual views. In Canada, members of Parliament do not vote on each measure according to their individual views : they vote along the party line. MPs have no « record ». It is the party which has the record. In such a context and for other reasons not mentioned here, effective labor political action in Canada not only means action through a party, it means action through a third party, one with a democratic structure and one in which labor's influence can be left.
In Canada, provinces are much more important to labor than the states in the United States. Only 15% of Canadian workers are covered by federal labor legislation while the rest is covered by ten separate provincial jurisdictions inwhich there exists much diversity. On the contrary, in the United States, there is strong need for the labor movement to have direct access to the power of the federal government which regulates interstate commerce and, as a consequence, labor legislation. That is why the involvement of the Canadian labor movement is less apparent and less effective at the federal level than the role COPE is playing in federal elections. Much of the energy in Canada must be saved to fight at the provincial level.
In the United States, the weakness of organized socialism and the attractiveness of Roosevelt's New Deal led the CIO and its socialists into the Democratic Party in the 1930's. Socialism had no other choice than to be absorbed within the Democratic Party or to disappear. In Canada, the Liberal Party is a party of centre, appearing at times leftist and at times rightist. Liberalism and socialism are still opposing forces in Canada. Socialism had sufficient initial strength in Canada to force liberalism to the centre rather than to the left.
The historical distinction between each labor movement's political action has consequences that are still felt today. While in the United States, labor's support of the Democratic Party is, in principle, conditional and revocable, in practice there is no alternative for the labor movement. In Canada, there is an alternative — a socialist party which is strong enough to play an important role in national and provincial politics.
To evaluate the relative success of each form of political action presents very complex difficulties. Nevertheless, this relative success can be approximate with the following five criteria : a) the success in elections ; b) the success as measured by rank and file support ; c) the success in raising funds ; d) the trend in success ; e) the success in securing legislation favorable to the labor movement's goals.
It is impossible, on the sole basis of electoral success, to conclude which type of political action is most effective. COPE's « batting average » — that is, the frequency of victories of organized labor's endorsements in Congressional elections — fares much better than the number of NDP seats in Parliament, but many factors limit the adequacy of this comparison.
The rank and file support of the NDP in Canada is a very intriguing phenomenon. 22% of unionized workers have voted for the NDP in the 1962 federal election, which is approximately the same percentage as those directly affiliated to the Party. However, this percentage is certainly very low when we compare it with the degree of commitment of the leadership to the Party. In the United States, much more union members vote for the Democratic Party (60 to 80 percent) regularly, but it is difficult to know if they do so because COPE wants them to vote for this party, or if they would have voted for the Democrats anyway. However, one thing is sure : The COPE operation has its roots in the near 15 million workingmen who belong to unions affiliated to the AFL-CIO. Local COPEs are also probably much more effective than the local CLC's Committees on Political Education.
It is almost impossible to assess the respective success in raising funds because of the different legal setting in both countries. In the United States, fund raisingmust be voluntary and COPE's campaign « Give a Buck to COPE » raises around $2,000,000. a year. In Canada, there is no such legal restriction on unions spending for political purposes (except in British Columbia and Prince Edward Island) and funds are raised though membership affiliation to the party on the basis of .05c per month per member deducted from union dues. This provides a $150,000. guaranteed annual income for the Party but it is short of the total CLC contribution of $400,000. in the 1965 election. Consequently, the difference or a large part of the difference must have come from unionists unaffiliated to the NDP in one form or another.
The respective trends in success present an uncertain perspective in both countries. The party supported by organized labor has lost some ground in the United States since 1964 in the House of Representatives and in the Senate and the proportion of union members voting for the Democratic Party has also declined. For some analysts, this decline in the union members' support of the Democratic Party cannot be attributed to COPE but to a change in the political aspirations of the rank-and-file which is growing more conservative than its leadership and is now rejecting the AFL-CIO's liberal legislative program.
In Canada, the situation is even more complex. From 1962 to 1965, almost every NDP member elected in federal elections came from the highly industrialized and unionized regions of : Metropolitan Toronto and Northern Ontario ; Vancouver ; Urban Winnipeg. During these three elections the NDP's strength, though relatively small, depended almost exclusively on organized labor's support in the above mentioned regions. However, the results of the 1968 election indicated a slight reversal of the recent trend and despite a net gain of two seats (from 21 to 23) the Party lost some ground in Ontario but made 6 big gains in agricultural Saskatchewan. Even if the « Trudeaumania phenomenon » has probably something to say in the disturbing statistics of 1968, this might be an indication that; the labor base of the NDP has been shaken up.
In Canada, a lot of social legislation has been introduced by the Liberals through the pressure of the CCF and the NDP. For example, during the war and immediate post-war period when the CCF achieved considerable success, the Liberals decided to protect themselves on their left and introduced a series of social laws which they took directly in the CCF program as they did recently with medicare which, for years, had been included in the electoral program of the CCF-NDP. This is a very important way by which the social program of the CLC and NDP is implemented but it is at the same time a kind of success that keeps the NDP in a minority party position. Because when the Liberals pass such legislation they get an important number of ballots that might have gone to the NDP in the next election.
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