Pamphlet invites delegates to pick up a button that says “Walk Out” from the Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association.
By JANET STEFFENHAGEN, Postmedia News March 18, 2012 http://www.timescolonist.com
Left to right, Lisa Owen, Gabrielle Lyall and Emmanuelle Henry demonstrate during this month’s three-day teachers’ strike in front of Willows Elementary School in Oak Bay.
Photograph by: Adrian Lam , timescolonist.com (March 5, 2012)
VANCOUVER — A faction of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation is calling for a provincewide strike by public-school teachers that would continue until the Liberal government repeals a new law that the group describes as the most aggressive attack on education in a generation.
“There are times in history when taking action is critical,” says a pamphlet circulated to delegates Sunday at the union’s annual general meeting in Vancouver and leaked to The Vancouver Sun. “Only a strong response will be able to stop Bill 22.”
The pamphlet is unsigned, but invites delegates to pick up a button that says “Walk Out” from the Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association.
While some teachers are nervous about the hefty fines permitted under the new law for those who take part in illegal strikes, the union will simply refuse to return to work until all penalties are lifted, the document says. “The potential negative outcomes on our careers if Bill 22 goes ahead are far, far more frightening than any loss of income or fines in the short term.”
(The bill provides for a maximum fine of $475 per employee for each day of an illegal strike and not less than $1.3 million a day for the BCTF.)
The bill, which was passed by the legislature last week, orders an end to a limited job action by teachers that began in September and prohibits any further work disruption during a six-month cooling-off period. The government intends to appoint a mediator to work with teachers and public-school employers to find an agreement that does not increase costs to the provincial treasury.
The BCTF has said it will not sign such a deal. It’s also furious about provisions in the law that remove limits on class size and composition and anticipate changes in contract language affecting seniority rights, professional development and performance assessments.
The 700 delegates met privately Sunday to craft a plan against the Liberal government and its new law. Union president Susan Lambert said they debated the full range of possibilities. “From nothing to everything,” she told reporters.
But nothing seemed unlikely. Lambert told delegates there was really no option “but to resist this unjust legislation in every way possible.”
Asked later about the pamphlet, Lambert wouldn’t say which group backed the strike option but admitted it was discussed at the in camera meeting. “This is an indication of how angry our members are,” she said in an interview. “They’re very, very angry.”
Delegates may not decide a course of action until Tuesday, after which a recommendation will be sent to 41,000 BCTF members for a vote.
The pamphlet says many teachers regret that they staged only a one-day walkout in 2002 after the Liberals imposed a contract and cancelled some bargaining rights. This time, teachers should walk out with no immediate end in sight, the document says.
Other protest measures — such as working bell-to-bell or withdrawing from extracurricular activities — aren’t enough, it says. “They simply do not apply the kind of pressure necessary to defeat Bill 22 or get us a genuine mediation.”
The pamphlet acknowledges that some teachers won’t support a strike and a few will cross picket lines. But local activists will do the work they always do to build support.
“We are a democratic organization. If a majority votes for a walkout, we expect the whole organization to respect that decision. We have always stood together in the past in such circumstances.”
The union shouldn’t worry too much about public backing, since it seemed to build during the last strike in 2005 after teachers set up picket lines, the pamphlet says. Furthermore, teachers might avoid a strike altogether by taking a tough stance now because the threat of a walkout is often enough to bring the employer back to the table. But if they do strike, teachers will demand a pay increase that would repay lost wages “multiple times over.”
In any event, the principle is more important than money, says the document. “This is about more than money. This is about keeping your job and having dignity and rights as a working person.”
Rick Guenther, who is challenging Lambert for the leadership, said Sunday night he did not favour a walkout at this time and that he would have trouble counselling other teachers to take illegal action.
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