UPDATE, 13 October 2005, 8:45 PM, EST
A BC Supreme Court judge ruled that the teachers’ union cannot use its own financial reserves, donations from supporters, or other assets for strike pay or other strike-related purposes, and appointed a monitor to oversee the ruling.
On Friday, October 7, 38,000 teachers in public elementary and high schools across the Canadian province of British Columbia walked off the job in defiance of the provincial Liberal government of Premier Gordon Campbell. They remain on strike despite being declared in contempt of court for their disregard of a labour board decision that their strike would be illegal. On Thursday, October 13, it is expected that the BC Supreme Court will hand down severe penalties agains the teachers and their union.
After winning office in 2001, the BC Liberals declared education “an essential service,” effectively removing teachers’ right to strike. They also removed teachers’ right to collectively bargain learning conditions. They have imposed two contracts on the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) by legislation, most recently by extending the contract that expired at the end of June 2004 until June 2006. This contract contains no wage increase.
Members of the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) voted by 90.5% in favour of striking illegally. They are determined to defend their right to collective bargaining and make gains both on wages and on class size and composition (how many children with special needs or children for whom English is not their first language may be placed in a class) .
Teachers have received widespread public support, despite the inconvenience caused to many parents. Significantly, the 25 000 members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees who also work for BC school boards are not crossing teachers’ picket lines. Union members and community activists rallied in support of teachers in cities and towns across British Columbia on October 11. In Vancouver, hundreds chanted “General Strike, General Strike.”
The strike has now reached a critical moment. The BCTF leadership’s response to the punishment meted out by the courts will be crucial. But so too will be what officials and activists in other unions across the province do or do not do. In response to the way the BC Hospital Employees Union’s strongly-supported 2004 strike was ended without members being allowed to vote on the settlement, teachers passed a motion that directs the BCTF executive to present an offer to the members for a vote rather than declaring the strike over as soon as a deal is reached. Much rides on whether this democratic decision will be respected.
It is in this context that the Solidarity Caucus, a group of activists from a number of BC unions, distributed this leaflet on October 11.
BC Teachers Backed by All of Us
David Camfield is Assistant Professor of Labour and Workplace Studies at University of Manitoba.