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BC Teachers Strike Declared Illegal...General Strike Brewing

Wildcat Teachers' Strike Finishes Second Day

Over 42,000 teachers held the course on the picket line for the second school day as momentum and support for the strike continues to build across the province. Despite a holiday weekend Supreme Court injunction ruling against the British Columbia Teachers Federation, recent polls indicate over half of the Province supports what is essentially an illegal strike, while highest projections of government support range in the teens.
Wildcat Teachers' Strike Finishes Second Day

Over 42,000 teachers held the course on the picket line for the second school day as momentum and support for the strike continues to build across the province. Despite a holiday weekend Supreme Court injunction ruling against the British Columbia Teachers Federation, recent polls indicate over half of the Province supports what is essentially an illegal strike, while highest projections of government support range in the teens.

Rallies coordinated by the BC Federation of Labour and supported by a diverse area of union, community, and political organizations were seen in over 16 major communities across the province. While the leadership of the largest trade unions continues to publicly praise the New Democratic Party of BC, the party continued to urge workers to obey legislation ordering them back to work. Many at the rallies called for escalation of picket support and alluded to the possibility of broader strike action.

The teachers, broadly considered a more conservative white-collar union, are showing increasing militancy. They have publicly defied the back-to-work legislation, and now refer to their wildcat strike as an act of "civil disobedience". The leader of the BCTF responded to the court injunction with a public statement beginning with "...We are sorry to hear that the court has found that our actions are in contempt of court...". In her ruling, the provincial Supreme Court justice who issued the injunction against the BCTF stated "No citizen or group of citizens may choose which orders they may obey".

42,000 Teachers on Strike in BC!!

The British Columbia Teacher's Federation went out on strike Friday, bringing over 42,000 of their members onto the picket line in an action deemed illegal by the Labour Relations Board and strike-busting legislation brought in by the BC Government. The indefinite strike means 600,000 students are out of classes, as the province's elementary and secondary schools closed.

Public sector unions working in education-related fields have vowed to support the BCTF. Over 25,000 Canadian Union of Public Employees support workers, and numerous other workers from unions such as the BCGEU, are refusing to cross the picket lines.

The wildcat strike, being declared as a political protest by some within the union, comes after the Government's representatives effectively refused to collectively bargain with the union. In September, teachers voted 88.4% in favour of a strike mandate. The Government's response on Monday was to introduce Bill 12 - a piece of legislation forcing teachers back to work under the same conditions for a year without negotiation.

In the face of draconian measures making any strike by the BCTF an illegal act, the teachers voted 90.5% in favour of strike action on a second vote on Wednesday. On Friday, teachers flooded the picket lines as political activists, students, unionists, and members of the community came out in force to support the strike. Public reaction has so far been strongly in support of the strike.

The Teachers are demanding a return to collective bargaining rights in the province, and their fight is one of demanding fundamental rights to freedom of association through unions. Their chief bargaining demand is reduced class sizes and the restoration of services to students that have been cut by the Government. They are also demanding an increase in wages, while the Government has clearly stated they want no increases, meaning the value of wages will actually fall in the face of cost-of-living increases.

A History of Strike Breaking

The dominant political party in BC, the BC Liberals led by Gordon Campbell, has a history of strike breaking and aggressive privatization of public assets. In April and May of 2004, the Campbell government imposed a 14% pay cut and massive privatization on the Hospital Employee's Union, triggering wildcat sympathy strikes throughout the province. Although the HEU strike was eventually put down through a controversial deal orchestrated with the trade union bureaucracy, resentment towards government remains high across the province.

While the BCTF's strike is about freedom of association and collective bargaining, it is also a fight over the future direction of the public education system. The core demands of the teachers revolve around restoration of student services and the reduction of class sizes. There is also the question of privatization, as the Government has pursued and aggressive policy of privatization and union-busting throughout the public sector. There are strong indications the government may move towards privatizing elements of the public education system if they are able to win in their fight against the teachers.

Political Response

The New Democratic Party led by Carol James, currently the opposition party to the BC Liberals in the provincial legislature, is currently seen by many as the chief political opposition to the Government's policies. However, during the 90's t he NDP majority government steamrolled over the BCTF during two consecutive terms.

While the NDP seeks to gain political mileage from the conflict by publicly issuing statements of support for the teachers, they have refused to concretely support the illegal strike. Carol James, the leader of the party, has indicated the teachers should "obey the law" when it comes to defying back-to-work legislation imposed by the government.

There is also skepticism over the role of the BC Federation of Labour, who have recently stepped into negotiations with the government over the dispute. While the BCFed backs the BCTF, many working people remember the BCTF's sellout of the HEU strikers in May of 2004. The BCFed's refusal to organized resistance to the assault on trade unionism pushed by the government in 2002 also puts in doubt the bureaucracy's commitment to supporting the strikers.

While the Campbell government calls for strikers to "return to work" and for "respect for the rule of law", they are increasingly facing accusations of unfairly applying the law. In the case of Telus workers who have been on strike against the private-sector telecommunications company for weeks, the government and courts have consistently refused to punish corporate management for using replacement workers in clear violation of the Labour Relations Code. Support for the strike remains strong throughout the province, with both the Government and BCTF digging in their heels for a show down that could determine the future of the public education system and collective bargaining in the province.

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