Shawn L. Bird

Original poetry, commentary, and fiction. All copyrights reserved.

poem-smoke September 1, 2014

You are smoke

You wind your lies

Through the crowds

Til they are choking and gasping

Then you fade away and

blame the sick

that they are ill.

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.

Just in case you’re tired of my Teachers’ Strike posts, here’s one that, while I know is about the strike and the misrepresentations of government spin doctors, at least it seems as if it could be about a variety of situations. :-)

 

Response to Maclean’s magazine op-ed re: teachers’ strike August 29, 2014

The following is a response written by Tobey Steeves to a Maclean’s magazine article about the BC teacher’s strike.   It was posted on http://www.macleans.ca/news/canada/b-c-teachers-strike-readers-respond-to-macleans-editorial/Since I can’t link just to his comment, I’m pasting it here, because it is a very informative explanation for those who don’t understand why BC teachers are striking.

(Reprinted with permission of Tobey Steeves.  Twitter: @symphily)

………………………………………………..

In an unattributed op-ed published on Aug. 12, Maclean’s frames the current bargaining impasse between B.C.’s teachers and the B.C. government as a “perpetual clash over salaries and education funding” (B.C. Uses Shrewd Negotiating Tactic in Teachers’ Strike). Setting a stage for readers, the editorial states that:

Little has changed to smooth things over in the past three years. In April, the BC Teachers Federation (BCTF) began an escalating series of job actions. Teachers first refused to supervise students outside of class time, or to communicate with administrators. Rotating strikes followed, closing every school in the province one day per week. Finally, a province-wide walkout in June shuttered all schools two weeks early. Forcing an abrupt end to the school year has long been the ultimate weapon in any teachers’ union arsenal.

Left unaddressed in this framing is the fact that teachers in B.C. are attempting to bargain with a government that broke laws to cut services for kids. B.C.’s Supreme Court has twice ruled that the B.C. Liberals used illegal bargaining tactics to strip contracts with teachers and health care workers. The International Labour Organization has ruled a handful of times against the B.C. Liberals—declaring multiple pieces of legislation illegal under international agreements. In other words, the United Nations agency that looks over labour standards and advocates on behalf of justice for workers and decent work for all has positioned B.C.’s ruling government as flouting international treaties to push its political agenda.

Admittedly, the B.C. Liberals have chosen to appeal their most recent loss at the B.C. Supreme Court, arguing that it would be too expensive for them to implement the Court’s ruling: placing money and profit above laws, and kids’ needs. To fight this appeal, the B.C. Liberals have hired a high-priced “legal superstar,” “an expensive, top-drawer corporate lawyer.” That is, instead of investing funds and resources in serving public education, the B.C. Liberals are investing funds and resources in fighting to uphold (illegal) cuts to services for kids.

Meanwhile, during this round of bargaining, the B.C. Liberals have tabled more concessions for teachers and cuts to services. For instance, there has been a refusal to address the student-to-educator ratio in B.C., currently the worst in Canada. Similarly, there’s been a refusal to address operating grants per student—currently the lowest in Canada. The B.C. Liberals have also denied the impacts of cuts to learning specialists and rejected the need for meaningful intervention to improve classroom composition. In other words, while classrooms across B.C. are getting more complex—more students who don’t speak English at home, more students with special needs, and more poverty—the B.C. Liberals would rather spend money and resources to legitimize further cuts to kids’ access to learning specialists than spend money on providing kids with access to learning specialists.

Also left unmentioned in Maclean’s framing is the fact that before the teachers escalated their job action, teachers struggled to broker an agreement for more than a year before the B.C. Liberals locked them out and cut their pay by 10 per cent. Then, under direction of the Labour Relations Board of B.C., teachers were “directed” to be off-site 45 minutes before and after school, and were “directed” to avoid using any school facilities and to avoid helping students during lunch and breaks.

However, Maclean’s op-ed does mention that the B.C. Liberals plan to pay some parents $40 a day to offset the costs of child care, should the teachers’ strike go unresolved by the start of the 2014-15 school year. Only students under the age of 13 will be eligible, parents will need to register online, and payments won’t go out until October—at the earliest. Limited access to child care and students over the age of 13, apparently, aren’t much of a concern. The program will reportedly cost the government around $12 million a day—to keep schools closed and kids at home. Alternatively, some parents may use the $40 subsidy toward tuition and fees at private schools. In effect, the $40-a-day plan is akin to school vouchers, and is best understood within the context of a privatization agenda and a broader push to attack and diminish public education. (See, for example, “Public Education in British Columbia: The Rise of the Shock Doctrine or Kindling for a Shock-Proof Otherwise?”)

Notwithstanding, Maclean’s op-ed encourages the re-direction of “savings from public sector strikes to taxpayers’ pockets,” and insists that:

The most productive and fruitful negotiations are those in which both parties have equivalent power and face similar risks. Compensating taxpayers for their losses from savings generated by a strike balances out the power in public sector labour talks and gives everyone a reason to settle. That seems like $40 a day well spent.

It takes a special genius to view the current bargaining impasse in B.C. as one in which teachers are inordinately advantaged. And there is no warrant for casting a government that has shown a willingness to let politics trump laws—and kids’ needs—as facing “similar risks” as teachers who have lost thousands of dollars in pay fighting for more equitable access to public education in B.C.

Malcolm X said, “If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.” Maclean’s anonymous op-ed ought be seen in this light, and recognized as a push for an anti-democratic policy agenda regarding labour negotiations. From this vantage, it seems like reading unattributed op-eds in Maclean’s may be something other than time well spent.

Tobey Steeves, a concerned citizen and public school teacher in Vancouver

 

poem- fight for rights #Iwillholdtheline

Filed under: Poetry — Shawn L. Bird @ 8:31 pm
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I will fight for what’s right.

I will demand my government obeys the law.

I will fight for what’s right.

I will stand in defence of contracts illegally torn.

I will fight for what’s right.

I will not blink when it threatens

I will fight for what’s right.

I will shout about injustice and lies

I will fight for what’s right.

I will shame them before the world.

I will fight for what’s right.

I will hold the line.

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Our British Columbia government illegally tore up our contracts in 2002 when our current premier was Minister of Education.  We have fought for the last 12 years against this injustice.  Two provincial Supreme Court decisions ruled against the government, stating that they violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  The decision demanded the government reimburse us for what they took away.  As well, the United Nation’s International Labour Organization ruled against their flouting of treaties and international agreements.  We are on strike because a government that acts illegally must be held to account.

The most recent Supreme Court ruling was in February, 2014.  You can read the ruling here.  You will see constant references to how the government bargained in bad faith, provoked strikes, and acted illegally.  They are still behaving the same way, so we are fighting to preserve fair bargaining for all working people, because if they destroy us, they will destroy every union in the province.   You should care about this.  You should care a lot.

 

 

poem- Oh Christy July 5, 2014

Oh Christy,

who was the teacher

who provoked you?

Who was the teacher

who shredded your confidence,

made you feel powerless,

alone,

stupid?

.

Who?

.

For surely somewhere,

you sustained a deep hurt

that is still a festering wound,

that causes you to lash out

like an injured dog,

irrationally,

deflecting your pain with today’s power.

Some time ago,

there was a hurt,

that we are paying for.

.

Christy,

A counselor

would be cheaper.

.

.

.

It’s just a theory.  But it would explain a lot.

 

allegory of the rich man and his gardener June 21, 2014

Filed under: anecdotes,Commentary,Pondering — Shawn L. Bird @ 7:20 pm
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An allegory:

Chris has the most beautiful garden in the city.  He has a gardener who has been working on it for years, carefully cultivating special plants, and creating special features that are the envy of people who come from all over the world to admire the garden.  The gardener is paid a fair salary for his expertise and years of training, so he is happy.

Years pass.  The gardener hasn’t had a raise in years, and things are getting more expensive.  Gas for his car now costs double what it did when he started working.

Chris asks the gardener to put in a fancy water feature, and several fruit trees. “I’ll cover the bill when rents are paid,” he says.  That’s fine, the gardener makes a good wage, and he loves the garden.

Chris goes around to his tenants to collect the rents.  To the small houses, he says, “The view improved now the neighbour’s tree is down.  You owe more.”

To the really huge houses, he says, “Never mind. You don’t have to pay your rent.”

Then he pays all his bills, but because he didn’t make the big houses pay their rent, he doesn’t have enough to pay the gardener all he’s owed.

Chris tells the gardener he still expects the fancy water feature and the fruit trees, as well as the lawn to be mowed, the beds weeded, and the shrubs pruned.

The gardener loves his garden: the new water feature is going to be stunning when he’s finished with it, and the fruit trees are amazing, blooming gloriously, but some fungus is creeping onto the petals, and then insects are bothering the fruit.  He can’t quite figure out how to stop that, but he’s read about a great fungicide that should work.  He just needs to test to see exactly what the problem is.

“I don’t have any extra money for this!” Chris declares.  “I pay you enough!  Your demands are ridiculous!”

The gardener wants his garden to be perfect, so he does his best, working in the evenings and bringing things from home.  He can’t afford to subsidize the proper fertilizer, tests, and fungicide, and when the mower runs out of gas, he can’t get more fuel  since he no longer can afford a car himself, so he can’t drive to get some.  He asks for an increase in his wages, and a budget that covers the demands Chris as made.

“This is not in line with what other gardeners are paid!” Chris shouts, though the gardener knows he is not asking for anything more than every other gardener in the city gets for the same kind of garden.

He begs Chris to please provide him with the budget necessary to do what he’s been asked, but Chris glowers and tells the gardener he’s being greedy and lazy.

The gardener tries repeatedly, feeling guilty about the way the fruit trees are dying, and he is frustrated because he knows if he could just get the proper funding for what is required, he could produce the kind of show garden Chris he wants.

With so much work, no extra staff, no supplies and not enough money to buy them, the garden inevitably falls into ruin.

“What a terrible gardener!” Chris says.  “I’m going to take back pay because he’s not working hard enough!”

“What a terrible gardener!” his golf club cronies in their rent free big houses agree, adding.  “It’s so hard to get good help cheaply any more.” Then they shout, “FORE!” as their golf ball sails over the artificial turf and the plastic flowers of their golf course.

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In case you missed it:

Chris is Premier Christy Clark, the garden is the education system, and the gardener is the teachers.

 

 

poem- stand up June 19, 2014

Filed under: Poetry — Shawn L. Bird @ 5:27 pm
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“Why are teachers even bothering to picket,

when you aren’t getting strike pay any more?”

he asked.

I told him it was because teachers are moralists

who are defending democracy

and fair working & bargaining conditions

against a corrupt government:

A government that ignores the court rulings

spends billions of tax payers’ dollars appealing

judgments by the Supreme Court

and the United Nations saying they

are WRONG to steal from our kids.

It will pay billions for a stadium roof,

but will not pay for educating its children.

I told him that in such a war,

pay is a small thing.

We will fight, because if our government

succeeds in destroying OUR union

then every other working person in this province

is in peril.

If OUR contracts can be shredded with impunity,

so can YOURS!

We are fighting for YOUR rights

and for our students’ right to a properly funded education

against a government with an agenda

to destroy public education and the middle class.

We’re fighting for YOU! I told him.

“Oh,” he said.

 

poem-not me May 29, 2014

My last pay cheque came

with a 10% fine,

because I belong to a union,

and somewhere in the province

someone else striking.

Not me.

I’m at work today,

my strike day was yesterday,

but I am fined today anyway.

A government that has twice

been told by the courts that

its actions are illegal,

that it bargains in bad faith,

that it tries to provoke problems,

simply ignores the judiciary’s order that it owes teachers

ten million dollars it took from them illegally.

Nope.  This government

continues to bully its educated citizens,

labelling scape goats and whiners.

Setting its propaganda machine in motion.

Sure that no one will believe what it is really doing.

Why is the public not up in arms?

Why are they not concerned

to see a government stripping rights

from its citizens?

Perhaps people are distrustful

of the well-educated,

so it’s easy to manipulate them?

Truth: 10% is off my pay cheque,

because someone else is demanding the justice today

that I marched for yesterday.

Sixty years ago,

our boys were fighting against

injustices like this.

They are likely turning in their graves

at the new chancellor

of British Columbia

and the apathetic

citizenry

who avert their eyes,

pretending not to see,

and mutter, “At least she’s not after me.”

 

 
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