As every union in BC's public sector knows all too well, the BC Liberals have no regard for free collective bargaining. More to the point, the current provincial government seems to go out of its way to pick fights with the labour movement, a strategy that is designed to undermine our unity and mobilize the public against whatever union is the target of the government's latest campaign. BC's public school teachers are the latest target, but the government's strategy isn't working.
The latest polling in the teachers' dispute shows a majority of British Columbians side with teachers and are frustrated by what they see as an uncompromising attitude on the part of the BC Liberal Cabinet. Just how uncompromising the government has become on this dispute was in full view when it tabled Bill 22, the Education Improvement Act, last week. The government tried to portray the legislation as accommodating, as a positive step in their effort to resolve the dispute with public school teachers. The legislation was anything but accommodating. Rather than establish a fair and unbiased mediation process, the legislation spells out exactly what the mediator can and cannot consider in trying to find resolution. Even more disturbing, Bill 22 directs the meditator to recommend changes in the teachers' exiting contract, changes that would give substantial new powers to local school administrators at the expense of local teachers. As well, the legislation would make it virtually impossible for teachers to secure better standards for class size and composition, two issues that were the subject of a Supreme Court of Canada decision forcing the BC government to reverse contract ripping legislation that it passed in 2002.
The BC Liberals are desperate to make their fight with teachers a fight that will help reverse their steady decline in voter support. Premier Clark is particularly anxious on this point. She won the BC Liberal leadership on the promise that she could re-build public confidence in the tarnished BC Liberal brand. A year into that assignment and her promised re-building effort has little to show for it. In fact, her efforts have only served to further divide her party's coalition base, a division that she appears unable to mend.
However, the teachers' dispute is about much more than party politics. It's about the fundamental right of workers, whether in public or private sector workplaces, to bargain in good faith with their employer. When government overrules that fundamental right, even when they decide to target one group of workers, those actions affect us all. Teachers are today's target. If the provincial government believes that teachers are fair game today, who will be next? Solidarity is our best defense against that kind of attack. We need to stand together, strong. That's how we can make a difference.