October 17, 2018

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Opinion

Organized labour the key to NDP leadership

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS files
Steve Ashton has the support of the steelworkers� and Winnipeg firefighters� unions.

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS files Steve Ashton has the support of the steelworkers� and Winnipeg firefighters� unions.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/2/2015 (1330 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

After more than 50 delegate selection meetings, thousands of phone calls and too many twisted arms to count, the NDP leadership race has boiled down to the union vote.

Most of the province's 57 NDP riding associations have now voted on which of the three leadership candidates they will support on the first ballot. Although each candidate has slightly different numbers, they mostly agree Steve Ashton leads with a small but comfortable margin over Theresa Oswald, who leads Premier Greg Selinger by another small margin.

Still left to be accounted for are 200 or so automatic delegates. Those delegates include two from every riding association, New Democrat MLAs and MPs and a few other party dignitaries -- and more than 690 union delegates.

Where will those votes go? For a variety of reasons, it will be impossible to gauge until the actual vote.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/2/2015 (1330 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

After more than 50 delegate selection meetings, thousands of phone calls and too many twisted arms to count, the NDP leadership race has boiled down to the union vote.

Most of the province's 57 NDP riding associations have now voted on which of the three leadership candidates they will support on the first ballot. Although each candidate has slightly different numbers, they mostly agree Steve Ashton leads with a small but comfortable margin over Theresa Oswald, who leads Premier Greg Selinger by another small margin.

Still left to be accounted for are 200 or so automatic delegates. Those delegates include two from every riding association, New Democrat MLAs and MPs and a few other party dignitaries — and more than 690 union delegates.

Where will those votes go? For a variety of reasons, it will be impossible to gauge until the actual vote.

For example, in the ranks of the automatic delegates, many of the NDP MLAs and MPs have indicated support for one candidate or another. Then again, many have not, and it is unlikely they will make their preferences known lest they end up on the wrong side of the eventual winner.

The same holds true for the two automatic delegate spots allocated to constituencies: one for the riding association president and one for the riding's representative on provincial council. Even though members in that riding have voted to support a particular candidate, nothing forces the constituency president or council member to do the same. In fact, the candidates are counting on the fact many will not follow their members.

It is even more of a dog's breakfast in the ranks of organized labour.

Selinger appears, at first blush, to be the candidate most likely to capture the bulk of union support. He has already been endorsed by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW). Together, these two unions control 448 labour delegates, essential support for Selinger to survive.

However, those endorsements do not automatically mean Selinger can count on those delegates. In fact, neither union has said it will whip its delegates to support Selinger. They will "urge" their members to vote for the current premier, but there is nothing they can do to force them into that position.

The Ashton and Selinger campaigns certainly believe union delegates will be spread among the three campaigns in some form or another. Right now, union sources say most labour organizations that were allocated delegates are desperate to find warm bodies to fill the available spots. There is concern unions will not be able to fill every spot, a situation that existed in 2009. Some union leaders believe as many as a third (or about 260 votes) will go unfilled.

As a result, sources confirmed delegate credentials are being handed out to CUPE and UFCW members on a first-come, first-serve basis. That suggests while the endorsements by union leaders are helpful, they will not ensure block voting by union delegates.

It also means the potential for manipulation will be high. Both Ashton's and Oswald's campaign are quietly concerned CUPE and the UFCW will try to leave some delegate spots unfilled rather than allow them to go to anti-Selinger members.

Given the absence of a democratic process to commit labour delegates, it makes you wonder why these unions are endorsing anyone.

Notwithstanding all that confusion, all three candidates are doing whatever they can to hook union delegates.

Ashton has been beating the policy drum to lure union support, and has won the support of the United Steelworkers and the United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg. His support for anti-scab legislation and lowering the threshold for union certification — both long-standing labour demands — will resonate with many union delegates.

Both legislative changes have been kept in limbo by the Doer and Selinger governments out of a concern it would paint the NDP as anti-business. Although union leaders have accepted the compromise — a NDP government without anti-scab or certification laws — rank-and-file union members may see virtue in Ashton's pledges.

Oswald has also courted labour with pledges, although none of them are as potentially controversial as Ashton's.

Selinger has said virtually nothing about policy or legislative changes to curry labour support. He is relying on the endorsement of labour leaders, hoping desperately this pushes delegates his way on the first ballot.

For union activists who want to see labour make a lasting impact on the NDP, there will be few opportunities as good as this one. But there is risk attached to that opportunity.

Leave delegate spots unfilled, or manipulate the allotment to steer votes to any one candidate, and unions may find that even if they win, they also lose.

dan.lett@freepress.mb.ca

Dan Lett

Dan Lett
Columnist

Born and raised in and around Toronto, Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school with a lifelong dream to be a newspaper reporter.

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