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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 18, Number 4, January/February 2006

Let's make affiliation official

by Susan Fonseca

In March 2003, BCTF members voted 58.1% in favour of a trial three-year affiliation with the BC Federation of Labour. This spring, members will be asked to vote on making a more permanent commitment to the BCFed. Ultimately, teachers will decide whether to end the long engagement period and walk away or to tie the knot with our labour allies. Solidarity for three years, or forever?

Teachers will be asked to determine whether our trial affiliation has been valuable in terms of advancing our professional concerns and issues to a broader community. Has membership given us a more effective voice and a broader audience? Have we derived support from others in our coalition who share common problems, interests, and concerns? Have we gained a better understanding of their workplace issues? Have we been able to gain access to alternative communication networks and shape the BCFed’s education policies? Have we been able to advance our professional concerns and gain the kind of public influence we do not have working alone?

As a delegate to two BCFed conventions and the New West District & Labour Council, I can attest that the answer to all of these questions is a definite yes. We were given a standing ovation three years ago when our delegation appeared in our blue and white T-shirts, which read "Proud to be a Teacher. Proud to be Affiliated." And this year, Jinny Sims, the first delegate to take the mike, was given a resounding standing ovation for her courageous leadership of our successful job action.

There is no doubt that Sim’s consistent and strong leadership inspired our sisters and brothers in the labour movement, or that the solidarity and defiance of individual teachers all around the province earned their respect. But the question we should be asking ourselves is Would we have had the success in standing up to the provincial government on our own without the committed support of our labour allies? The answer to that question really is the litmus test for our next ratification vote.

Think back to the picket lines and consider the support offered by members of so many other labour unions including HEU, nurses, postal workers, Telus workers, firefighters, and of course, CUPE. It was the BCFed that took our responsbility for the rally in Victoria, and it was the actual walkouts or threat of walkouts by other unions around the province in support of teachers that got the government to call Vince Ready to mediate. When the courts prohibited our strike pay, it was the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators’ Association who set up the Feed the Teachers fund. And in Langley, Telus workers who had been locked out for three months, offered eight boxes of groceries for our local food drive for teachers and CUPE workers.

This broad support was both nourishing and uplifting and showed that solidarity is not just an abstract concept.

It’s hard to imagine after our experiences of the past three years, that teachers would vote to withdraw from the BC Federation of Labour. I hope teachers will acknowledge the solid support we’ve been given by our fellow affiliates with an overwhelming vote to stay right where we belong. Let’s make it official this time.

Susan Fonseca is vice president of the Langley Teachers’ Association.

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