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Teacher Strike Reality Check Needed as Mediator Walks out

Valuable life lessons for students in ongoing dispute.

Bill Tieleman 2 Sep

Bill Tieleman is a former NDP strategist whose clients include unions and businesses in the resource and public sector. Tieleman is a regular Tyee contributor who writes a column on B.C. politics every Tuesday in 24 Hours newspaper. E-mail him at [email protected] or visit his blog.

"School's out for summer/ School's out forever / School's been blown to pieces" -- Alice Cooper, "School's Out"

There will be no public school classes today in British Columbia, nor quite likely for weeks, after veteran mediator Vince Ready walked out of negotiations, saying teachers and the provincial government were too far apart.

So it's time for a reality check.

First, the sky will not fall. Everybody take a valium.

Students will not be scarred for life in learning that the peaceful resolution of strong differences among adults is inconvenient and expensive in a democracy. In fact, it's a valuable life lesson.

Alternative ways of dispute resolution are now on display by Russian tanks and troops in eastern Ukraine, where the rule of force trumps the rule of law and respect for international borders.

Second, teachers are not "strike happy."

They are going without wages and strike pay, suffering financially because most believe it's the right thing to do, whether you agree or not.

Teachers also know they will never make up $5,000 and counting in lost wages.

The BC Teachers' Federation is not holding kids "hostage." True hostages are the 300 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram terrorists in Nigeria -- respect the word.

Students and parents are also not "caught in the middle" of this dispute; they are part of this dispute because parents are taxpayers and voters and their children will become both.

As such, parents have an important role in telling the government how they feel about its position, loudly. Students and non-parents have that responsibility too.

Class size and composition -- the number of special needs kids in classrooms and what resources they get to help learn -- are critical to the whole province. It's our future at stake, and a generation of students already had fewer resources than they were supposed to.

This government's record

Premier Christy Clark is well aware that governments rise and fall on voters' judgment about how they deal with critical issues like education, health care and the economy.

Political leaders who ignore or reject public opinion don't survive long. Just ask former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell, ex-Alberta premier Alison Redford or ex-Quebec premier Pauline Marois.

The BC Liberal government -- to its credit, so far -- has rejected imposing a legislated contract.

To do so goes against labour principles and international agreements, which state that free collective bargaining means reaching a negotiated contract, even through the use of a legal strike or lockout to put pressure on both sides.

But sadly, this government has been repeatedly cited for violating basic union rights and has lost in Canadian courts against teachers, hospital workers and other unions.

The B.C. Supreme Court has twice ruled that the government broke the law by stripping provisions for reduced class size and composition from the teachers' contract in the past and of attempting to provoke a full-scale strike for political advantage.

It has every right to appeal those decisions, but unless and until that verdict is reversed, it remains exceedingly guilty.

Clark should be worried about not learning her lesson.

Kids will be all right

The BC Liberals also fired the BC Public School Employers' Association board of directors, removing elected school trustees' involvement, and replaced it with only one government appointed administrator.

That came after BCPSEA and the teachers' union had agreed on new approaches to bargaining and seemed to be making progress. Now we have a full-scale, indefinite strike.

Education Minister Peter Fassbender broke a media blackout agreed to by both sides, and despite his vigorous rejection of that obvious conclusion it jeopardized talks at a critical moment.

The government has proposed contract clauses that would say, according to the union, "that if either party didn't like the outcome of the court decision, notice could be served to unilaterally terminate the collective agreement" and also allow government to override a future court decision.

Who would give up their right to go to court against a government with a record of illegally breaking its word and ripping up contracts?

But ultimately the strike will end, teachers and students will go back to classrooms and the kids will be all right.  [Tyee]

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