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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 15, Number 3, Jan./Feb. 2003

Affiliation with the BCFed
Now's the time to affiliate with the B.C. Federation of Labour

by Neil Worboys

This spring, colleagues throughout our province will take a historic vote on whether to affiliate with the B.C. Federation of Labour. If ever there was a time for teachers to join with the broader union movement, it is now.

Now, more than ever, we must be united in our efforts to resist the B.C. Liberals’ "New Era" politics. Gordon Campbell and Christy Clark’s agenda of confrontation and cuts is devastating communities around the province, and especially in rural areas. Our students, parents, neighbours, and colleagues are being affected by the unprecedented mass closure of schools, hospitals, courthouses, and community agencies.

While they slash taxes for their wealthy friends and funders, the Liberals continue slashing services to the most vulnerable among us: the ill, the elderly, the homeless, single mothers, victims of crime, children with special needs, and immigrants and refugees. The casualties are mounting daily.

We must be realistic. This year’s cuts were terrible, but next year’s could be much worse. The government’s program of downsizing, privatization, and underfunding will carry on relentlessly unless we put a stop to it.

Many teachers, including me and the other leaders of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation, believe that we must join with others in the Labour Movement if we are to turn the tide and rebuild a strong, stable public education system for all.

Representing 450,000 workers throughout the province, the BC Fed is made up of many activists and parents who share our values of universality and equity in a quality public education system. They are our best allies in our struggle to keep quality education a reality for every child.

Thousands of BC Fed members understand our feelings in a way no other British Columbians do. Like us, they have also had their collective agreements ripped up and their bargaining rights trampled. Working more closely with them will help us all to regain those crucial collective rights and contracts.

Some teachers have expressed concern that joining the Fed will limit our professionalism, but the reverse is true. We can exercise our full professional autonomy only in an environment of respect for teachers, not in the current climate of teacher-bashing fostered by Campbell and Clark. Their obsession with accountability measures and their intentional undermining of our system make it next to impossible for us to truly act as the professionals we are.

Teachers in other provinces, especially Ontario, have experienced the same attacks we are now enduring. Their response has been to join the Labour Movement, and they agree it has expanded their influence and base of support. We should learn a lesson from our Ontario colleagues and follow their example.

Certainly other professionals here in B.C. have also done so. The B.C. Nurses’ Union joined the Fed last year, as did the thousands of college instructors represented by the College Institute Educators’ Association. Their members say that by being involved in the Fed, they have increased their sphere of influence and understanding. Both professional unions are encouraging teachers to take that important step and assume our rightful role in the house of Labour.

If the 43,000 teachers in the BCTF join the BC Fed, its membership will near half a million. Just imagine half a million British Columbians with shared values and common goals. What an amazing force for social change we can be!

When it’s time to mark your ballot, please vote YES for affiliation.

Neil Worboys is BCTF president.

If you have any questions, please contact any one of the members of the BCTF Task Force on Affiliation. They are eager to talk to you about the issue. You can go to the web site, www.bctf.bc.ca/about/affiliation, e-mail task force members at labour-tf@bctf.ca, or call them:

Sandra Davie (Prince George) 250-562-6441, f: 250-564-4085, sdavie@sd57.bc.ca

Carole Gillis (Kamloops Thompson) 250-376-1272 f: 250-376-3142, carole.gillis@shaw.ca

Chris Johns (Cranbrook) 250-489-3717, f: 250-489-3727, lp02@bctf.ca

Mark Keelan (Surrey) 604-594-5353 f: 604-594-5176, cell: 604-218-5362, lx36gv@bctf.ca

Norm Nichols (North Vancouver) 604-903-3500, f: 604-903-3501, norm52@shaw.ca

BCTF contact, Larry Kuehn, 604-871-2255, f: 604-871-2294, lkuehn@bctf.ca