Labour Studies Index

Updated: 2022-05-16

A Crisis of Social Democracy: Organized Labour and the NDP in an Era of Neoliberalism

Document type Thesis
Author Fowler, Tim
Degree M.A., Political Science
Publisher Brock University; St. Catharines, Ont.
Date 2008
Pages 157 pages


The NDP was founded out of the ashes of the Co-Operative Commonwealth Federation to cooperate with the Canadian Labour Congress to become the 'political arm of organized labour' in Canada. The NDP has long claimed they are the party which represents the policy goals of organized labour in Canada: that the NDP alone will fight for trade union rights, and will fight for Canadian workers. Divergent Paths is an examination of the links between the labour movement and the NDP in an era ofneo-liberalism. Provincial NDP governments have become increasingly neoliberal in their ideological orientation, and have often proved to be no friend to the labour movement when they hold office. The Federal party has never held power, nor have they ever formed the Official Opposition. This thesis charts the progress of the federal NDP as they become more neoliberal from 1988 to 2006, and shows how this trend effects the links between the NDP and labour. Divergent Paths studies each federal election from 1988 to 2006, looking at the interactions between Labour and the NDP during these elections. Elections provide critical junctions to study discourse - party platforms, speeches, and other official documents can be used to examine discourse. Extensive newspaper searches were used to follow campaign events and policy speeches. Studying the party's discourse can be used to determine the ideological orientation of the party itself: the fact that the party's discourse has become neoliberal is a sure sign that the party itself is neoliberal. The NDP continues to drive towards the centre of the political spectrum in an attempt to gain multi-class support. The NDP seems more interested in gaining seats at any cost, rather then promoting the agenda of Labour. As the party attempts to open up to more multi-class support, Labour becomes increasingly marginalised in the party. A rift which arguably started well before the 1988 election was exacerbated during that election; labour encouraged the NDP to campaign solely on the issue of Free Trade, and the NDP did not. The 1993 election saw the rift between the two grow even further as the Federal NDP suffered major blowbacks from the actions of the Ontario NDP. The 1997 and 2000 elections saw the NDP make a deliberate move to the centre of the political spectrum which increasingly marginalised labour. In the 2004 election, Jack Layton made no attempt to move the party back to the left; and in 2006 the link between labour and the NDP was perhaps irreparably damaged when the CAW endorsed the Liberal party in a strategic voting strategy, and the CLC did not endorse the NDP. The NDP is no longer a reliable ally of organized labour. The Canadian labour movement must decide whether the NDP can be 'salvaged' or if the labour movement should end their alliance with the NDP and engage in a new political project.