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

Teachers attend BCFed convention
We all benefit by joining

by Simon Truelove

To anyone who is concerned about the way teachers are portrayed to the general public, I highly recommend a visit to the BCFed Convention. Here was an opportunity for us to gather with hundreds of our potential best allies from all over B.C.—and we certainly made the best of that opportunity. The Hospital Employees’ Union stood out because of their blue jackets. Nurses formed a vocal group. There were boilermakers, pipefitters, office workers, and longshoremen, to name just a few.

What impact did we have on the other delegates? They gave us the warmest of welcomes. They kept rising to give us standing ovations! (The assembled members leap to their feet at every possible opportunity. It’s simply the way they do business.) We were able to let them know our biggest complaints about Christy Clark—particularly the college—and we received unanimous support. We greatly influenced a couple of votes on contentious issues.

There were many opportunities to talk to delegates from other unions over coffee outside in the hall. I suppose that is what’s meant by "lobbying." A CUPE friend from Richmond expressed concern over the way IWA had signed up former HEU workers in an exclusive backroom deal after they had been laid off by the government. HEU certainly had our support on that one. A Surrey member of the college educators was concerned that her members were definitely not ready to agree to join a general strike. Teachers agreed with her and supported the adoption of a much more strategic and long-term motion.

Surrey firefighters are small in numbers but are well respected in the community. They seemed very pleased about the potential effects of the inclusion of teachers. Teachers will bring much needed balance to the BCFed, I was told. It will take years to gauge the effect. The more experienced delegates perceive us as a potent force on the provincial stage. This is a perspective that may come as a surprise to many teachers, because we’re so used to getting beaten up by the media.

A huge theme of the convention was the reaction to a whole range of actions taken by the Campbell government. The entrance to the convention was picketed by enthusiasts for a general strike. They were selling t-shirts. I did not buy one.

Many speakers described the hardship imposed on them by various cutbacks. They voiced outrage at the lies told by the government minimizing the damage. They stood up and promised to continue the fight against the damage that is being done to our society. From their point of view, teachers arrived as welcome allies in a universal struggle of ordinary citizens against oppression.

After all, are we not professional communicators? We talk and write all day long.

I really got a kick out of a speaker at the New Westminster Labour Council who informed the teacher table how great it felt to be able to speak uninterrupted to a whole group of seated teachers. As Robbie Burns said, "Oh would some power the giftie gie us. To see ourselves as others see us."

Anyway, our recent response to the college debacle, having garnered almost 90% support from our members, is a source of some envy among other unionists. They would like to know how we did it. In time, it seems clear that we have much to offer the B.C. Federation of Labour.

By comparison, what do they have to offer us? In recent years, the BCTF has been increasingly concerned with public advocacy. We have to counter some of the poison that is printed about us in the papers. Where could we find a better conduit than an organization representing half a million workers, most of whom are also the parents or grandparents of the children we teach? Their greatest virtue to us as an organization is that they are willing, even eager, to listen.

Simon Truelove teaches at Senator Reid Elementary School, Surrey.

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