Ain’t Misbehavin’

One wonders how much longer the BC teachers’ strike can go before one side is broken. Rotating action around the province in support of the teachers by the BC Division of the Canadian Union of Provincial Employees was a very good sign, but the government has some powerful weapons in their arsenal as well. The legal system, for example.

The head of the teachers’ federation, Jinny Sims, has said that she is prepared to accept the consequences of disobeying the court order requiring the teachers to return to work. It takes courage to stand against an unjust law and willingly accept the punishment for doing so, but it is somtimes necessary to do so, and this is one of those cases.

Gordon Campbell

Premier Gordon “Johnny Law” Campbell’s comments seemed to discount the entire notion of it being sometimes necessary to disobey an unjust law, telling reporters that, “At the end of the day, it is hardly a hard line situation to say people should respect the law. The fact of the matter is, in a civil society, we must obey the law.” It would be refreshing to see Campbell’s respect for the rule of law matched by a respect for some of the other fundamental principles of a democratic society, such as freedom of association.

But what about the children? Won’t somebody please think of the children? Well, no teacher I have ever met was in it for the money. I would be more inclined to say that interest of the students was more in the mind of the teachers when they voted to strike than it was in the mind of thel legislators as they imposed the “agreement”. Teaching simply isn’t a profession which justifies back-to-work legislation. Children can make up lost classroom time over the year and into the summer. That’s an inconvenience, but that’s the point.

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18 Comments

  1. Manatee said,

    Thursday, 20 October 2005 at 1:06 pm

    It appears to me that solidarity among BC teachers reamains strong, and I am glad to see it. From the media coverage I’ve seen it appears that the B.Columbians are largely behind the teachers and their students. The Premier and Labour Minister claim the table is set to negotiate, but won’t sit down until the strike is over. Government delay signals nothing more than disinterest in their children’s education.

    I think it’s time to review the legality of governments cicumventing our right to free association. If BC teachers can be thrown in jail for improving the lot of students, and Alberta strikers can have their picket lines reduced in number to virtually nothing, what good is my right to freely associate?

  2. O'Smiley said,

    Thursday, 20 October 2005 at 3:37 pm

    Welcome back Gnomes.

    Momentum is definitely building for the Teachers and their support. It is only a matter of time before the BC Liberal Government will have to cave, or risk greater political repercussions.

    Just some clarification on the Freedom of Association clause of the Charter: This means that you are free to associate with whoever you choose without prosecution or reprisal, not that your association is of any greater legal meaning that any other relationship (marriage, friendship, membership, etc.). Freedom of Association is not specific to just labour unions. There have been many comments made on various blogs using freedom of association with relation to this issue when it doesn’t really fit.

    For Example: just because you have the right to form a union by freedom of association does not mean you have the right to strike.

    Therefore in response to Manatee’s question: Freedom of association does not ensure a benefit from association, only the right to associate.

  3. Manatee said,

    Thursday, 20 October 2005 at 4:09 pm

    Hmmm. “Freedom of association does not ensure a benefit from association, only the right to associate.”

    I think that the legal basis for freedom of association not applying to the right to strike was based upon freedom of association being seen as an individual right. I hope Gnomes will tell us if this is correct. Since an individual cannot form a union, and can not strike, this freedom does not prevent the government from restricting unions (for example to having only 50 picketers on the line in Brooks).

    For those of us who think that group rights are as important as individual rights, you can see why we would disagree.

  4. Manatee said,

    Thursday, 20 October 2005 at 4:35 pm

    “just because you have the right to form a union by freedom of association does not mean you have the right to strike.”

    When the right allows me to associate, but does not allow the things for which the association exists, the answer to “what good is my right to freely associate?” becomes clear. It is of no good.

  5. Stevo said,

    Thursday, 20 October 2005 at 5:49 pm

    I fear that your evaluation of the public’s backing of the teachers may be a little off base. It seems more likely to me that the public supports any measure that will lead to students returning to school. It is clear at this point that the teachers are unwilling to return by government pressure or legal action. Therefore the public may be reacting to this by siding with the teachers. The real problem in British Columbia is a long line of labour disputes that have made any type of real negotiation impossible. By stripping principals of their professional rights,caring little for the effects of a changing economy (teachers have been offered a zero percent increase in salary), and ignoring classroom needs the government has forced the teacher’s association to become militant. At the same time, teachers campaigned to the public throughout the last year for increased funded to help the children’s classroom needs, then when it became clear they would not be getting classroom provisions demaded a stiff wage hike (15%). With both sides reacting to each other with hostility, a lengthy strike was highly probable. The public’s reaction is always to side with who is TRULY hurt by these actions…THE STUDENTS. I would think both the government and teachers would be well served by working for students and the public would surely thank them.

  6. O'Smiley said,

    Thursday, 20 October 2005 at 5:55 pm

    I completely agree with you stevo.

  7. O'Smiley said,

    Thursday, 20 October 2005 at 5:57 pm

    Manatee – Unions DO NOT exist to strike! Unions exist to allow its members to collectively bargain the contractual obligations of company and employee with the companies of which the union members are employed. When a contract is forced upon the union members, such as has occured in the past for the B.C. Teachers, then the “good” of a union is to use its large numbers to press the case onto the public just as the B.C. Teachers are doing.

    Furthermore, just because it may not be beneficial to associate, does not mean the right has been revoked; and in cases where the right to associate is not beneficial to society (i.e. association with terrorist groups) the right can and has been revoked.

  8. Manatee said,

    Thursday, 20 October 2005 at 6:32 pm

    O’Smiley, I know you’re not suggesting that unions and terrorists pose an analogous threat to society.

    You have not convinced me that our Charter right to assemble freely is being respected by merely allowing unions to exist, without allowing for a fundemental right to either collective bargaining or striking. There is certainly a higher principle than simply being allowed to ‘hang out’ with some colleauges associated with a right deemed fundemental.

    Steveo, I think the teachers are honestly convinved, and I would agree (and argue that so does the majority of the BC populace), that their actions will have a positive outcome for students. In addition to improving the lives of students and teachers, this strike has the potential to change the nature of public sector labour action across the country. To quote Gnomes, “It takes courage to stand against an unjust law and willingly accept the punishment for doing so, but it is somtimes necessary to do so, and this is one of those cases.”

  9. O'Smiley said,

    Thursday, 20 October 2005 at 8:58 pm

    Manatee – I’m glad that you know that I am not suggesting that unions and terrorists pose an analogous threat to society as that is not what I said at all. I was merely noting an example that the right of Freedom of Association can be justifiably revoked, and in saying this I am not saying that there is a justification in revoking this right with Unions. Unions serve an important role. I do believethat for greater prosperity Unions and Employers must work more closely together for the common good of the company/society. Unfortunately there is currently a wide spectrum within unionization, from unions still fighting for what is right (B.C. Teachers/B.C. Government) to unions who’s demands have devastated industries (U.A.W./Domestic Automotive Sector).

    Furthermore, the right to Freedom of Association is not targeted at Unions as there is the Canada Labour Code detailing the rights and responsibilities of unions and employers. It is within this Code, and not the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, where the rights, rules and obligations regarding collective bargaining and striking are described. The right to Freedom of Association provides the right to form unions (as well as any other association including clubs, religious/civil unions, friendships, etc) without persecution and nothing more.

  10. Manatee said,

    Thursday, 20 October 2005 at 10:24 pm

    Well, not to be picky, but doesn’t the Canada Labour Code only apply to labour under federal jurisdiction, such as the RCMP. Aren’t unions would be regulated by provincial legislation. Of course, this is irrelevant, the Constitution speaks last. I’m merely trying to discredit you.

    O’Smiley, we clearly have different use different standards when interpreting the Charter. I would encourage you to re-read the Charter and ask yourself what sorts of protections the other freedoms provide when read so strictly. Here is a quote from Justice Galligan re freedom of association that I agree with:

    “But I think that freedom of association if it is to be a meaningful freedom
    must include freedom to engage in conduct which is reasonably consonant with the
    lawful objects of an association. And I think a lawful object is any object
    which is not prohibited by law….
    The purpose of an association of workers in a union is clear — it is to
    advance their common interests. If they are not free to take such lawful steps
    that they see as reasonable to advance those interests, including bargaining and
    striking, then as a practical matter their association is a barren and useless
    thing. I cannot imagine that the Charter was ever intended to guarantee the
    freedom of association without also guaranteeing the freedom to do that for
    which the association is intended. I have no hesitation in concluding that in
    guaranteeing workers’ freedom of association the Charter also guarantees at the
    very least their freedom to organize, to choose their own union, to bargain and
    to strike.”

    Oh ya, here is some entertaining reading for you, this guy is hilarious:
    http://www.chass.utoronto.ca/cir/library/electronicarchive/seftonlectures/SeftonLecture23rd_2004-05_Arthurs.pdf

  11. Manatee said,

    Thursday, 20 October 2005 at 10:26 pm

    I guess you can read the dissent here, if you want:
    http://www.lexum.umontreal.ca/csc-scc/en/pub/1987/vol1/texte/1987scr1_0313.txt

    I know it will change your mind!

  12. Stevo said,

    Thursday, 20 October 2005 at 11:01 pm

    Manatee, I have no doubt that the teachers have the best interests of their students in mind. The concern I have is that by asking for a wage increase they hinder negotiations for things such as classroom size limits and new schools. It is critical that when negotiating you make your point of view clear to the public. If the teachers want to help the students then that should be the main focus of negotiation and discussion. Unfortunately in this case they have reached a point where they feel they must push for a wage increase with the hopes that the government will settle for a small wage hike and some economic support for classrooms. It is a sad situation when both sides must declare extreme points of view instead of trying to reach consensus. I’m am 100% in support of the teacher’s right to fight an awful offer by the government. The risk of course is that as the strike lengthens, public support( 56% in support of teachers, 19% in support of the government http://news.yahoo.com/s/cpress/20051013/ca_pr_on_na/teachers_dispute_b_c) is likely to dwindle. In any evaluation the real losers are students. While it can be argued that this fight is not for this year’s students but for the future, it will likely result in little change for BC schools and a similar problem 3-5 years from now. The more willing both sides are to give, the better the education system will be in future years.

  13. O'Smiley said,

    Thursday, 20 October 2005 at 11:20 pm

    “I know it will change your mind!” – Is that a joke?

    Regarding the other freedoms, just as the Freedom of Association, I find them very specific. I see them just as “strictly”, as you say, and I observe the same freedoms as I have always believed they offered me.

    I think we can say that we disagree on this issue Manatee. We obviously cannot convince each other of our opposing veiwpoints.

  14. Manatee said,

    Thursday, 20 October 2005 at 11:33 pm

    “The concern I have is that by asking for a wage increase they hinder negotiations for things such as classroom size limits and new schools. It is critical that when negotiating you make your point of view clear to the public”

    Classroom conditions have been very well covered by media when discussing the strike, and the teachers are using the opportunity in the spotlight to draw attention to the conditions.

    O’Smiley, it is nice to see you back making the arguments you were brought here to make, even if they are wrong!

  15. Stevo said,

    Friday, 21 October 2005 at 8:41 pm

    The difficult question the teachers must answer is the following:

    Why are you asking for a 15% wage increase when this will make it impossible for the government to fund change to classroom conditions for students?

    The media and public is well aware that classroom conditions could be better for students. By asking for a 15% wage hike the teachers are contradicting the very values they claim to be fighting for.

    At the same time the government is offering a wage freeze for teachers. Making it hard for teachers to survive with the current cost of living. This will lead to less well educated people entering the profession. This of course will lead to students recieving a poorer education.

    It is easy to pick sides and simply defend the teachers on the basis that the children are most affected be them. However, having been a part of labour negotiations between a school board and its local teachers association, the number any teacher requests to know about is always the wage increase. Teachers will always choose the money because they feel that the government really doesn’t care about teaching conditions and even when they push money into education it benefits very few on a widespread scale. In spite of these conditions, students recieve a good education because teachers care for students and work extrat to ensure success. It is critical that if the teachers truly care about the conditions in which they work they make that the number one priority for negotiation. I fear that in the end the public will be left with a sour taste when teachers take a wage increase with minimal clasrroom improvements.

    If the government “shows them the money” the classroom conditions won’t seem so bad for teachers.

  16. Manatee said,

    Saturday, 22 October 2005 at 12:05 am

    Haven’t you heard the news today, Stevo. It should be pretty clear that classroom conditions are a priority for the teachers and the 15% was negotiable if the government meets class size and class condition stipulations. Success for teachers and students is in the offing. I suspect the gov will meet these demands by early next week. A $500000 fine is well worth the improvements.

    “Jinny Sims, head of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation representing the public school teachers, told CBC Radio that the acceptance of the proposal is conditional on the province agreeing to provide firm class-size numbers and support for special-needs students.”
    From:
    http://www.cbc.ca/story/canada/national/2005/10/21/teachers-strike051021.html

  17. Peggy L. said,

    Saturday, 22 October 2005 at 11:55 am

    The Ready recommendations certainly do provide a nice start for BC, including an extra $20 million this year plus annual increases to base funding and amendments to the school act regarding class size.

  18. Manatee said,

    Friday, 28 October 2005 at 2:34 pm

    http://www.rabble.ca/for_the_sake_of_argument.shtml?sh_itm=805168aa138feb8404befda93a468eb2&rXn=1&

    A link from Rabble with two takes on the outcome of the teachers strike.


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