Going on strike

This is basically a political post. If you’d like to read something light and funny, you might want to go elsewhere, because I’m feeling really bummed out. I’m discouraged and I’m not in a good mood.

On Monday, we teachers in BC will be withdrawing our services for three days.

We have been without a contract since last June. Since school began in September 2011, we have been on a limited job action, which has involved such things as not attending meetings with administrators, not communicating in writing or email with them unless it’s an issue of student safety, not doing playground supervision, not doing administrative paperwork such as report cards. All of this was designed to minimize the impact on students, but put pressure on our administrators. We were hoping that they would eventually complain to their superiors at the School Board, who would then complain to their bosses in our provincial government.

Because it is the government that is the problem.

In the past decade or so, they have cut the education budget every single year, with no allowance even for inflation. They have declared teaching to be an “essential service”, meaning that we cannot legally go on a full strike, much like medical or law enforcement professionals. They have systematically taken away many of our collective bargaining rights, so that we can no longer bargain most of our working conditions – which, coincidentally, are the learning conditions of our students. And in this round of bargaining, they have literally refused to negotiate at all, simply saying a flat “No” to all the teacher union’s proposals and refusing to really discuss anything. They have told us that there is absolutely no money for a pay increase (despite the fact that a few other government unions have negotiated increases in the past several years, and the fact that there certainly was a truckload of money for the Olympics, for a new roof on BC Place Stadium, and for a pay increase for the provincial government politicians). They have not acknowledged that teachers in the past accepted no pay increases in exchange for better working and learning conditions (such as caps on class sizes and specific language on the number of special needs students permitted in one class and the amount of support those students need to be successful) and that maybe we are due for a some “catch-up” money instead, seeing as how we can’t bargain those items any more. The government has refused to budge on ANYTHING and just wants us to give up even more of our contractual rights (like due process for teacher evaluations, planning of professional days, procedures for filling job postings). They would not even consider having a neutral mediator involved in the almost 80 bargaining sessions the two sides have had so far.

Then this week, the government has introduced a law to force teachers to, among other items, accept zero increase in salary for at least two years, to agree to losing the ability to at least consult on class size and composition, and to continue to “negotiate” but with a mediator of the government’s own choosing. Oh, and if teachers decided to go on full strike, each teacher would be fined 475$ daily our union officers a minimum of 2500$ daily, and our union as a whole a minimum of 1.3$ million daily.

Teachers in BC are pissed. And despairing. What can we do? Everywhere we turn, the government is creating laws to make it illegal to act. They are bullying us and disrespecting us and forcing us into a corner.

This latest law has not yet been passed. Until it does, we still have the right to withdraw our services, though in a limited way. We have gotten approval from the provincial Labour Relations Board (a neutral body) that we may strike for three days next week, then one day a week after that, as long as we let people know two full school days ahead each time. We cannot legally picket or block entry to schools, but we can gather and protest in front of schools. Teachers voted 87% in favour of withdrawing our services, and we are doing this on Monday, March 5.

I personally am very upset that it has come to this. I don’t want to go on strike. I want to keep teaching. But I am so angry that my provincial government is treating me like a criminal and punishing me for simply being a teacher. I don’t deserve this! So I have to voice my anger somehow, whether or not it does any good.

Here’s hoping it does.

(And if you’re at all interested, here’s a link to a blog post written by Cheryl Angst, a BC teacher. She’s said it all so much better than I could. My comment is number 224.)

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9 responses to “Going on strike

  1. I had already read Cheryl’s blog and it was a great letter. I am comment 398 or something like that. There are now 756 comments.

  2. Good grief, that sucks! I wish you (all of you) good luck trying to get through to the gov’t. Hopefully, with enough support, you can all squash this thing and get some honest negotiations going.

    • Thanks, Nicky. And as I type this, it’s windy, pouring rain out, and my protest-line duty starts in half an hour. But it’s 7 degrees outside, so at least it’s not freezing cold too! I’ll keep you posted as to how things unfold.

  3. Funny isn’t it that they always have money for themselves though. Hang in there Pink. Don’t let them demorLize you.

    • Jazz – Most BC teachers are feeling pretty lousy right now, caught between a rock and a hard place. And all the public hears about is that our starting demand for salary was 15% over three years – that’s 3% a year, which is basically the cost of inflation! It’s hard to keep morale up, but we’re trying. I’ll keep you posted!

  4. Because I both love and respect you and your very obvious skills as a teacher, I am going to refrain from making comment on your current situation, dear sister. This is an agonizing time for any conscientious teacher. It’s too reminiscent of when my ex-wife had to go through this shit years ago. I think it’s appalling this inept government has let it come to this pretty pass. And I do indict the government for how badly it has handled its role here. But, going back to my teaching days at the dawn of time, I retain a singular loathing for the BCTF due to experiences I’ve had with a union I have tended to find unreasonable. That bias is my own and immutable.
    But, you are stuck in the middle of this, and I too was in a nasty strike at my newspaper and it fucking sucks from both sides.
    What I will say to you, because I genuinely care about a horribly badly led province and also care about many friends who are still in the education business, is please be kind to yourself and good to yourself in this stressful time. Detach whenever and however you can and my thoughts are totally with you.

    • Thanks, Big Brother. This truly is shitty, and regardless of what anyone thinks of the BCTF, what this government has done to teachers in particular over the past decade they’ve been in power is even more shitty. And as far as taking care of myself, I already have a soothing spa day planned for next weekend with my pal BFJ, who is always good therapy. 🙂

  5. I can certainly understand your anger and frustration and your desire to go on strike. Our teachers here are protesting for some of the same reasons. The government is a tough negotiator and only thinks in terms of saving money, not in what is in the best interest for the pupils and the teachers. Education doesn’t seem to be given the priority it deserves. Lots more money needs to go to it. It’s of the utmost importance.

    • Irene – It really is everywhere, this desire by governments to cut budgets and save money. Hopefully, though, your government hasn’t systematically targeted Dutch teachers as being overpaid and incompetent troublemakers, which is what our BC government seems to think about BC teachers. I’ll let you know how it all turns out here in BC!