October 17, 2005

On Teachers' Strikes

There are already many people who have weighed in on the issue of the BC teachers' strike so I'm sure any thing I'm about to say isn't purely original but this post got me going. I'm sure it had something to do with the author being an old acquaintance, but I think it is also because of actually throwing some real arguments out against the teachers, he used some of the old, time-worn, predictable conservative arguments. These were the same arguments that former Ontario Premier Mike Harris and his high school drop-out crony of an Education Minister John Snobelen had used against the Ontario teachers in 1997. The first argument I've always loved is the "holding students hostage" position. Unions and teachers get this thrown at them all the time. And while I'll admit it's a statement that can have everyone thinking twice, including teachers, it's no more true for the teachers as it is for the governments that turn a blind eye to the students they are also allegedly standing up for. If the governments cared as much they preach they do then they wouldn't 'hold students hostage' by cutting back services and programs, teachers, and funding for resources. Ontario went through a period under Harris where each of these rang true. The result was classrooms with outdated and limited number of text books, classrooms that had upwards of 35 or more students and limited access to specialized educators for students with disabilities. But as soon as the Union goes on strike Teachers are the evil ones. Another good argument is one about teachers 'breaking the law' by going on strike. In BC, teachers are considered an 'essential service'. Thus going on strike is automatically illegal. In Ontario, the teachers just disobey the government's back-to-work legislation, which is also illegal in the end. For this, teachers are often criticized for setting a poor example for their students. What if we were to look at it as 'standing up for yourself'? Teachers are constantly trying to instill self-confidence into students, especially those that are obviously struggling either in their education or in social settings. How would it look if teachers, especially those that believe the students are being abused by the government, just gave up and walked away? Who else is going to stand-up for the students. Students don't vote and aren't really on most modern politicians radar. I realize, in terms of education, that a strike doesn't benefit the student, but how are students supposed to stand up for themselves? Who else is going to fight for the state of education? Whatever happened to one of the foundations of democracy? Teachers are called hypocrites but when a government with an agenda takes your right to strike away and legislates your contract without bargaining in good faith, who is really the hypocrite? A democratic government unwilling to act democratically is worse because it is obvious at that point they don't respect the foundations that their government is built on and because they can, if unchallenged, use that abuse of power for a negative agenda. Even looking at the arguments against the idea of strikes in general, especially when it concerns public institutions versus the government, is even far-fetched. To say that all strikes are about is "you're not giving us what we want, so we're going on strike" is completely unfair to say the least. Then to add, "To say such a thing to the government - a duly elected body, accountable to the people - requires a staggering degree of audacity" is to miss the point completely. It's not always about what we want. Its sometimes about fairness, either in terms of balancing wages with company earnings. That just comes in under the idea of ethics. It's goes along with the same reason why we have minimum wages, why we have rights as workers, etc. Going on strike is an extension of the workers' right to gain their respect and most of all stand-up to those who would try to take advantage of them. It doesn't matter if it's the government or not. My father's union used the threat of a strike to hold his regional government, which was also his employer, accountable for not paying their workers what the industry standard was. The regional government was paying my father and his co-workers almost 50% less then what other regional governments, even those in areas where there less people and had less accessible money, were paying their equivalent employees. If it wasn't for their threat to strike, the government wasn't about to budge. This leads to the second statement missing the point. If someone is going to argue that it requires a staggering degree of audacity to strike against an elected body, accountable to the people, then let's not forget that public employees are also voters and the government has to be accountable to not only them as voters but its employees as well. If a government is not willing to be fair then the strike option is there to fight back. On a last point, I don't agree with teachers bringing 'propaganda' into classrooms. The classroom is not a place for that type of politics, despite how much it is affected by it (ie cutbacks, etc.). However, it's not always as easy for teachers to jump on the airwaves and get into print their position as it is for the government. To that end, sometimes teachers probably get frustrated because they are on the frontline of both the negotiations, the public criticisms - especially if turns into a public hanging as was the case with Harris in Ontario - and the cutbacks. Despite what people think, teaching is not always the easiest job. In Ontario, new teachers have a staggering burnout rate within their first five years. Having another issue thrown on them like a strike, or the fear of a job cut, or knowing that it's going to cost part of your own personal salary to bring in supplies for your students, which causes frustration and they end up making a comment in class, maybe cut them slack. Maybe some empathy or sympathy would be a better response instead of losing all the respect that they built up with you over several years. I honestly wish there was another avenue for teachers then striking. Hell, I wish there was another option to striking in general, but what are the alternatives? I even wish that some governments and corporations, and even some unions, wouldn't try to abuse their power. Since the latter isn't likely to change, I don't believe that the former should change either.

1 comment:

Lisa Chase said...

Thank you. As a teacher in BC at a secondary school with some classes of 33-37 students, I appreciate your educated look at the issues.

Quotes from people smarter than me...

"If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich" ~ JFK

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. " ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

"Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. " ~ Benjamin Franklin

"First it is necessary to stand on your own two feet. But the minute a man finds himself in that position, the next thing he should do is reach out his arms. " ~ Kristin Hunter

"When you're a mayor and you have a problem you blame the provincial government. If you are provincial government and you have a problem you blame the federal government. We don't blame the Queen any more, so once in a while we might blame the Americans." ~ Jean Chretien

"Which is ideology? Which not? You shall know them by their assertion of truth, their contempt for considered reflection, and their fear of debate." ~ John Ralston Saul

"It is undoubtedly easier to believe in absolutes, follow blindly, mouth received wisdom. But that is self-betrayal." ~ John Ralston Saul

"Everybody dies, Tracey. Someone's carrying a bullet for you right now, doesn't even know it. The trick is to die of old age before it finds you." ~ Cpt. Malcolm Reynolds (Firefly, Episode 12)