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