Directors’ Blog: Political Education is Labour Education Too

Written by: Stephen von Sychowski, WELLS Director and Chairperson

This blog series is meant to cover general topics related to labour education. It is managed by our WELLS Directors

There’s a poster that was published in the 1970s by Press Gang Publishing (and current re-issued by Lazara Press). It features a working-class woman leaning on a fence. The caption reads “Class consciousness is knowing what side of the fence you’re on. Class analysis is figuring out who is there with you.”

I’ve rarely seen it put more simply and clearly than that; a direct, plain-language definition of two of the most crucial concepts underpinning the labour movement, labour education, and working-class political consciousness. How you first come to grasp it doesn’t matter much; at the end of the day, you get it, or you don’t. You can apply it to anything: a picket line, an organizing drive, an election. Without it, our movement is rudderless and prone to constant division and subtraction.

That was as true in the 1970s as it is today. On October 15, 2022 municipal elections will be held throughout British Columbia. Some believe municipal elections are unimportant. But they do matter – a lot. The outcomes can impact just about every facet of our lives, and the programs and services we rely on. The list includes emergency services, water and sewage, waste disposal, roads and public transit, parks, libraries, schools and so much more.

Municipal governments also play a major role in tackling the multiple crises facing our communities today: housing affordability, poverty and homelessness, the opioid overdose emergency, and climate change.

But even all of this does not describe the full scope of the importance of this election. After all, on October 15th, voters will decide who leads our cities through the remainder of the COVID-19 pandemic, and into the early years of the post-pandemic recovery. Those who are elected will be empowered to decide.  Will they enact policies that put people first and tackle the critical issues we all face, or will they abandon working families and vulnerable members of our communities in favour of austerity and the interests of the wealthy few. Will we have a just recovery for all, or just a recovery for a few? The outcomes will reverberate well into the future.

It should be clear to all that we cannot sit this one out. That’s why labour councils are already hard at work carrying out their candidate endorsement processes and planning their campaigns. They are identifying candidates who share labour’s values and will be on the side of working people. Labour councils are also applying an equity lens; aiming to endorse diverse slates of candidates who are representative of the electorate. Councils know which side of the fence they’re on, and they’re looking to see who else is there.

Ultimately, endorsement decisions are made democratically, by vote of delegates representing the union locals affiliated to the labour council. Voters can be confident that endorsed municipal candidates have been considered by an entire body of delegates representing workers across economic sectors and industries, and not just Political Action Committees and Executive Boards.

That endorsement is where the work really starts, because it’s not enough to vote, guided by the labour council’s recommended candidates. Political education is labour education, and we all need to do a lot of it to win.

It’s not too early to talk to your coworkers, your fellow union members, your friends, family, and neighbours about why municipal elections matter, and who deserves their support. You can also volunteer with your labour council, which will engage in a variety of activities to support endorsed candidates. There’s a job for everyone.

On October 15th let’s make sure our side of the fence isn’t cut out of the pandemic recovery picture by those in power. Let’s elect pro-worker, progressive majorities everywhere and demand a just recovery for all.

Originally published February 8, 2022