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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 16, Number 3, January/February 2004

Teachers attend BCFed convention
Our t-shirts said it all

by Susan Fonseca

Idon’t know why we left the B.C. Federation of Labour 47 years ago, but I do know that I’m glad we’re back. It was a very proud and emotional moment for B.C. teachers when we were welcomed back by President Jim Sinclair at the opening plenary of the BCFed convention. Our t-shirts said it all: Proud to be a Teacher (on the front), and Proud to be Affiliated (on the back).

When we rose in a wave of blue and white at Sinclair’s behest, we were welcomed back with a hearty, standing ovation by our new "brothers and sisters" in the B.C. family of Labour: nurses, college educators, firefighters, healthcare workers, postal workers, ferry workers, forestry workers, and many, many others in both private- and public-sector unions who contribute to the health, safety, and welfare of our communities every day.

Our resolutions, including those to endorse the Charter for Public Education, to call on the provincial government to restore fair and adequate funding for the public education system, to rescind changes to B.C. Child Labour Law in Bill 37, and to condemn Christy Clark and her government for their blatant attack on the teaching profession by taking over the BCCT with political non-elected appointees were all unanimously endorsed by the convention. Our fellow delegates understood those issues because they are all under attack by a government bent on destroying the Labour Movement in B.C., and many of them have children and grandchildren in our classrooms.

We were struck by the passion and the eloquence of delegates from all affiliates, and we cheered as our own members took to the mikes.

We heard about the crisis in funding for women’s shelters. We heard from the nurses and other healthcare workers about the cuts in healthcare and often found ourselves on our feet in support of their resolutions. One HEU worker moved many of us to tears with her stories of the impact of the cuts on her colleagues and their patients. After working for 17 years at Women and Children’s Hospital, she lost her job, which was then contracted out for lower wages. A palliative-care nurse was deeply distressed and spoke movingly about the enormous cuts to her department and the impact on B.C. families and people who are being denied care in their final days.

CLC President Ken Georgetti reminded us that we are all "walking on bridges built before us" by earlier members of the Labour Movement, and that we have a duty to preserve and strengthen those bridges so that our children can live in a society where people earn a living wage and where services valued by our communities are protected.

Former NDP Leader Joy MacPhail and new Leader Carole James explained how the sell-off of B.C. Rail will hurt our economy and northern communities in the long run. This government’s vision for economic renewal‚ is to privatize our commonly owned public assets, often by bringing in American CEOs to attack the unions and to make a quick cash grab up front, damning the consequences in the future once all our Crown corporations are in foreign hands. The message from this convention, clearly posted all around the cavernous hall, is that "Our B.C. is NOT for Sale"—not our highways, our hospitals, our schools, our government buildings, or our Crown forests!

We passed a flurry of emergency resolutions calling on the government to back off the sale of B.C. Rail, and to support, rather than cut, services to B.C. students, patients, seniors, women, people with disabilities, drivers, injured workers, pensioners, and those in need of a social safety net.

For the most part, workers in B.C. have grown used to being ignored by this government, which only responds to demands from corporate interests. More disturbing, this government seems to openly enjoy humiliating workers. For example, Kamloops MLA Kevin Kreuger called HEU hospital support workers "toilet cleaners" and Canadian Alliance/B.C. Liberal advisor Rod Love announced publicly that the government had been given an electoral mandate to "crush Labour like a bug." Thus, they gleefully tore up contracts with teachers and healthcare workers and set about rearranging the whole social contract in the province. Emboldened by wins in the early skirmishes, the Neo-Industrial Revolution is now on in full force in B.C., with the government on the attack against workers in all sectors of the economy. As one speaker reminded us, however, we are not the first to fight such critical battles. We were reminded of Gandhi’s long struggle against imperial interests, and his ultimate advice in victory: "First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win!"

Though many delegates were ready for a general strike to protest this government, described by one speaker as "77 weapons of mass destruction sitting in Victoria," ultimately, cooler heads prevailed. Most union leaders favour an action plan with many more complex features than a strike, and a majority of the delegates gave the executive the mandate to work with affiliates to intensify our fightback campaign by moving forward with an eight-point action plan working up to the next election. There is much work to do during that time to defend the "bridges that we walk upon."

As teachers, we’ve seen that when we hold the line together in the interests of public education, we win. Just think what a powerful force we will be when we all hold the line with the rest of the "brothers and sisters"—those whose work is the foundation of a civilized society.

Pierre Trudeau’s "Just Society" has no resonance for the B.C. Liberals, whose vision of B.C. is one of a corporate jungle where only the strong and the rich survive and thrive. Gordon Campbell’s Liberals’ vision is more of a "Just Us Society." I’m glad that teachers have chosen to come home to join the rest of the Labour ranks to fight for a civilized British Columbia where all workers are respected and valued. We made the right choice, and we’re back just in time.

Susan Fonseca teaches at Langley Education Centre, and she is a member of the Teacher Newsmagazine Advisory Board.

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