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“BC Teachers Backed by All of Us Can Win against This Government!”

 

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
Can Win against This Government!

Across B.C. teachers are striking over fundamentals. It’s a strike for our children. It’s a fight to maintain quality public education. It’s a strike against the policies of a government rolling in money that has closed 113 schools and terminated 2,600 teaching positions.

It’s a strike to halt the Liberal privatization of education, which Premier Gordon Campbell is continuing despite the fact that 51 per cent of British Columbians voted last May against any further privatization.

It’s a strike to break the Liberal public sector wage freeze and to prevent Campbell from imposing this freeze on the rest of the public sector unions who are going to the bargaining table next spring.

And above all, it’s a strike to preserve some of the fundamental freedoms of our society, the right to engage in free collective bargaining and to go on strike. In the last four years the Liberals have outlawed public sector strikes (nurses, ferry workers, hospital workers). They also legislated and end to a strike by private sector forest workers. The only way the right to strike can be preserved in the present climate is by exercising that right legally if possible, illegally if necessary. And no amount of hypocritical whining about “respect for the law” coming from the mouth of a convicted drunk driver can change that fact.

The teachers are striking over fundamentals — that’s why they have to win!

The stakes are very high. BCTF members risk huge fines, class action lawsuits, jail terms, a very real end to all future bargaining rights, and possibly even revocation of the Rand formula. This fight is for keeps, and will have a huge impact on what happens to the trade union movement over the next decade. But if the stakes are high, we have to remember something else as well: there is every reason to believe we have the collective ability to win this struggle.

Yes, to win we need unity in action. We need to make it clear this strike has the active, unqualified support of the entire labour movement. We must immediately mobilize the membership of every union across B.C. to come out in support of the teachers. We need to stand with the membership of the BCTF, and this means we need to stand with them, shoulder to shoulder in action, when the going gets tough. Campbell and his business backers must know for certain that the B.C. labour movement will not allow them to single out the teachers for repression, that we will not stand by and watch their right to strike be crushed, and that we understand what it means to say “an injury to one is an injury to all”.

The teachers are fighting for all of us, showing exemplary unity and courage as they do so. However, we cannot expect them to fight alone. They don’t just need words of support, they need active, practical solidarity. We should immediately set up teacher support committees in every city and town, open to all, whether union members, parents, community activists, or all three. These committees can be vehicles to organize effective community support for the BCTF including mass support pickets, huge rallies, demonstrations, and occupations to back teachers.

Above all, it means we need to prepare now for widespread job action to support the BCTF. Collectively we have the power to shut this province down — every unionized workplace and then some. When push comes to shove, if we’re united, and act together, we can win against this hated government. If the teachers are out on strike to defend our children’s future, we need to do the same to defend their future — and all of our futures.


David Camfield is Assistant Professor of Labour and Workplace Studies at University of Manitoba.


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