Teachers' dispute: labour solidarity shines bright

The biggest teachers' dispute in BC's history is over and it's time to reflect on lessons learned. Certainly, those in the Premier's office are still trying to figure out what happened. In a dispute where the government was convinced that strike-bound classrooms would turn public support against teachers, the results were the exact opposite. Close to two-thirds of British Columbians supported teachers in their fight for better classroom learning conditions, even though that fight had been deemed illegal by the BC courts and had kept kids out of school for over two weeks.

 

The dispute was a wake-up call for the Campbell government. Bully tactics, like the legislative hammer embedded in Bill 12 (Teachers' Collective Bargaining Act), were not going to go unopposed by either those directly affected-BC teachers-or their allies in the broader labour movement. As well, the BC Liberals were reminded once again that the public looks to government to find answers, not pick fights. Many thousands of parents knew all too well what the teachers were talking about when they said classroom conditions had deteriorated over the last four years. Parents wanted those problems fixed and knew that supporting teachers in this dispute was the only way to do it.

In the broader labour movement, the solidarity and support for teachers was nothing short of spectacular. Whether it was the protests in Victoria or the Kootenays, thousands of workers walked off the job to send a clear message to the Premier: bargain with teachers, don't ignore them. These workers risked a lot to send that message. In the Kootenays, for example, six Steelworkers were fired for participating in the protest. In other areas, workers faced suspensions and other forms of discipline for taking a stand in support of teachers.

Within the ranks of FPSE, support for the teachers was tremendous. Members on Vancouver Island, in Kamloops, and the Northwest as well as throughout the Kootenays joined with others to show their support for the teachers' fight. Hundreds joined in community rallies and walked the picket line with teachers.

When the courts froze the teachers' strike fund, FPSE was quick to take action that provided direct support to individual teachers. We established the Feed the Teachers Fund and called on others in the labour movement to join our effort to help striking teachers. The initial commitment of $200,000 has since climbed to almost $300,000 with support from other unions, FPSE locals and CAUT affiliates from across Canada.

The response from teachers who received our support was equally heartfelt. Our office has received hundreds of calls, emails and letters from teachers. One Burnaby teacher wrote, "Wow! What a wonderful gesture of support-thank you. I am a Burnaby Teacher-on-Call and a single mom so this is awesome for us."

Lessons learned? When we support each other, we're all stronger for it. Yes, collective action is never easy to mobilize, but it is a powerful reminder of what makes our movement so essential. There will always be room for improvement, but what we demonstrated to ourselves and to teachers is that solidarity is forever.

About FPSE

The Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC is the provincial voice for faculty and staff in BC teaching universities, colleges and institutes, and in private sector institutions. FPSE member locals, represented by Presidents' Council and the Executive, represent over 10,000 faculty and staff at 18 public and 12 private sector institutions.