Adrian Dix can't sidestep net zero forever. (Photo: Rafal Gerszak for The Globe and Mail)
In 2007, a strike amongst City of Vancouver staff seemed to be inevitable. Other cities had settled, the final terms of the upcoming contract were already known, yet no one could stop the strike. Political interest in making the strike happen was a more powerful force than all the efforts to prevent it. And how well it succeeded: Mayor Sullivan did not last to serve a second term.
And now with the dispute between BC's teachers and the BC Liberal government it feels like that all over again. The over-the-top pronouncements by the BCTF regarding Education Minister Abbott hardly seem like the comments of an organization genuinely interested in settlement. They are the comments of an organization with a different agenda altogether:
“The punitive fines for contravention of the act are an outrageous and a deliberate attempt to intimidate, bully and bludgeon,” [Susan Lambert, BCTF president] said.
"Parents have to know we do not welcome this plan…The teachers are very angry. Teachers are very upset. This is a further assault on our profession.”
See Susan Lambert's press conference from Tuesday
BCTF president Susan Lambert masterfully points the finger at the government for playing politics, yet somehow the actions of the BCTF are not. Thursday morning the teacher's union announced they would strike to protest the government's "arrogance" and "cynicism". Parents across the Province are now stuck looking for child care for three days next week, tapping into limited household resources, vacation time, and if they're lucky, family or friends who are free Monday through Wednesday.
And the NDP are ever-so publicly quiet. Province columnist Mike Smyth says getting Adrian Dix to comment is like nailing Jello to a wall. The opposition are refusing to say where they stand. But we can be sure where their hearts are, and it's not in settling the issue any time soon. Strikes, trauma, and unhappiness all favour the party hoping to displace the current government, especially when polls show the majority of parents still behind teachers.
The NDP, of course, were the government who legislated the teachers back to work last time, in 1998. In fact it was the BC Liberals who managed to actually negotiate a contract in 2006, the only time recently that that has been achieved.
Make no mistake – this dispute by teachers is all about the hearts and minds of voters. The BCTF has been successful over the years at keeping the parents and public on its side. It remains to be seen whether they are able to do that during this job action, but history shows us that governments rarely win fights against better funded, better organized union apparatchiks (the BCTF have a multi-million dollar advertising war chest they're currently drawing down on).
On the one hand, the BCTF are at odds with the public mood as to balancing the budget, with the government's net zero mandate, and with their over-the-top demands for benefits. But on the other hand parents love their childrens' teachers and that is a powerful advantage for the union.
Minister Abbott, in Bill 22, is offering mediation and a $165m three year learning improvement fund to help teachers meet complex needs, ie special needs in the classroom, but the BCTF rebuttal only gets louder and more outraged.
The other public sector unions are now joining in. You have likely heard the major blitz of ads on the airwaves supporting their pals in the BCTF. If that contract opens up, then so do theirs, and you can wave goodbye to the prospect of a balanced budget in BC for a long time.
It's all about politics. It's all about the next election. The BCTF want their labour allies in the NDP governing. You'd be kidding yourself if you think it's about anything else.
- post by Suzanne Anton