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April 4, 2012

Teachers Fight Back: The BCTF Action Plan seeks solidarity with labour

by Ian Weniger

Time to Fight

Following a grueling annual general meeting, the BC Teachers Federation has finally begun briefing its members around the province with the specifics of the Action Plan to fight Bill 22.

BCTF members who have not yet seen a copy can login for an online view.

The Action Plan is the next step in the strike that BCTF members had expected to follow “Phase One” of the job action of refusing to compile report cards (while still marking assignments), collect money or perform administrative duties like homeroom, come to meetings with administrators like staff meetings, and perform supervision of students outside instructional time, like assemblies).

After education minister George Abbott approved a government advisor’s report that the BC Public School Employers Association could not achieve an agreement after stonewalling the BCTF for 78 sessions of demands to strip teachers of basic union rights, the Liberals drafted Bill 22, a massive attack on public education, union rights, and democracy.

The Action Plan to confront the government’s legal assault dominated the BCTF Annual General Meeting from 17-20 March, with most sessions held ”in-committee” as a result. The Action Plan is confidential, but essentially every kind of on-the-job and off-the-job protest is included, from withdrawing voluntary extracurricular activities like afterschool tutorials, clubs and sports, wearing black to mourn the death of collective bargaining rights, to a full walkout. Teachers have been advised that any or all of these protests could be a violation of Bill 22.

BCTF members will vote on the entire package on April 17, 18 and 19.

Every teacher needs to get a copy of the Action Plan and meet with colleagues at school to understand what tactics they are willing to try and what they won’t. From the beginning of the AGM, locals were already committing to action. Delta teachers decided to withdraw extracurricular activities, while Victoria teachers voted 700 to 11 in a general meeting to walk out immediately and indefinitely.

This is the opportunity to really engage about the next step.

In that engagement, there are many questions: some will only walk out if the rest of BC’s labour force strikes with them; some are convinced the public has accepted the media and government PR about teachers being greedy and selfish; while others fear the massive fines.

But other teachers have concluded that Bill 22 must be fought with province-side strike action until the bill and its fines have been withdrawn. They see the strike as the only tactic that has not been truly tried and they refused to go down against what they see as a bully government.

If people are more frightened about their jobs and bills than the future of public education, union rights and democracy, then we have lost.

But members are angry and want an effective tool to defeat Bill 22. They are prepared to hear why a full strike will work and we have to hear people's alternatives to a full strike. We have a little bit of time to have the real conversations that will lead to common actions, the experience of which can build trust between members.

We can't just talk a good line: we must put our money where our mouths are, talk about the failure of six months of work-to-contract during Phase One, and learn that more of the same will not affect the government's plans, and remind people that solidarity exists in BC for a strike – if we spread that message.

There is pressure on labour leaders to do more than wait for the NDP in the 2013 election. We need to keep that pressure up by Teachers and their supporters sending speakers to other union locals to educate them about the threat every worker faces and to tell them that if they will come out, teachers will go out.

Teachers need to vote Yes for the Action Plan on April 17-19 to build our own – and others – confidence to walk out – either now or after mediation.