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

I'm voting yes for affiliation

by Jinny Sims

Three years ago, the BCTF decided, through a member vote, to join the BC Federation of Labour for a three-year trial period. Affiliation requirements determine that we need to decide this year whether or not we wish to continue that affiliation and in so doing, extend it to include affiliation to the Canadian Labour Congress. I voted "yes" for the three-year trial period and I support the BCTF’s ongoing affiliation to the BC Federation of Labour and the Canadian Labour Congress. I do so for three reasons.

First, public education is a public-policy agenda item that is significant provincially and is increasingly important federally. Within the BCFed and the CLC we have, and can muster, support for our positions on public education funding and other important education policy issues. That is why the three major teacher unions in Ontario, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association, and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation have all joined the Canadian Labour Congress. Along with them, we would be a formidable force in the CLC and help to ensure that public education was given a prominent place in deliberate discussions at the national level. When you look at our experience over the past three years in the BCFed, it is clear that this is where we find allies committed to a quality publicly funded public education system. The only one of our education partners that stood up for public education in our recent dispute with the provincial government was CUPE and the BC Federation of Labour supported us big time. BCFed support forced the government to introduce Ready into the process during our action and it engaged virtually every union in this province in supporting us in one way or another. Having the support of the BCFed and its affiliated unions was critical to our ultimate success and our ability to win broad public support for our goals.

Second, by being members of the BCFed/CLC, we are part of an organized labour movement that includes working people across the country. We have a voice in influencing the direction of progressive policy development as shaped by the labour movement. We are on the inside, trying to work with others for a better BC and a better Canada. Yet, we continue to maintain our independence and our autonomy as a union of professsionals. Whether the issue is dealing with international trade agreements or basic collective bargaining rights, we have natural allies in the labour movement; allies that will support us as we support them when we have common causes. Last June, I attended the CLC convention in Montreal as an observer, and was impressed by the gathering of so many people from such a broad range of work situations—industrial, craft, professional, service, public, and private—in a meeting where they were collectively determining policy directions for the labour movement and for Canada. I was also impressed by the extent of the international development work that the CLC does with countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. I believe we limit our effectiveness as an organization if we choose to operate outside of this milieu.

Third, we belong in the BCFed and the CLC because we are working people. Yes, we are professionals but, we are employed professionals. And because we are employed professionals, we have an employment relationship with our employers that leads to collective bargaining. We cannot and do not set our own conditions of employment as do many self-employed professionals. Like other working people we bargain for many of the terms and conditions of our employment. And because we are professionals, we have a significant degree of autonomy in the delivery of our services, we can and do bring to the labour movement a different perspective on issues and approaches to strategies in debates and discussions that we engage in. And because of the strong democratic nature of our union and our historically inclusive culture, we also can contribute positively to the future development of organized labour in this country.

We should be in the BCFed and the CLC because that is where we belong. I commit my passion and my energy to advocate for our continued affiliation.

Jinny Sims is president of the BC Teachers’ Federation.

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