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In the Fall of 2005, teachers in BC went on strike, deemed illegal because the provincial government, in retaliation, passed a law defining education as an “essential service” making strikes illegal.

The first two days of the strike were "legal" because the law had not yet been passed.  The teachers planned to go back to the classroom after their second day on strike, but decided to stay on strike because the law passed was in contradiction to the Canadian Constitution and to treaties signed with the United Nations.  It was seen as illegal and vindictive by the teachers.

It is difficult to see education as an essential service as lives are not in immediate danger for lack of a teacher, and the service, unlike police, fire and ambulance, is not a 24 hour life and death service.

Date: Thu, 20 Oct
From: David C

Hi Dr. Phil,
I don't know who Ron G is, but I'm sure wondering why he feels sorry that you're teaching our class.  Is it that he feels sorry you are teaching sociology in general, or that you have to teach it to us.  If the latter is the case, then I must ask this:  how can he feel sorry, when he has no understanding or knowledge of the dynamic that exists within our class, or of the individuals attending it?  This blog represents one of a great many discussions we've had on a wide range of topics both online and in class.  If he disagrees with the opinions being expressed here that's fine; it's your right to. But please respect the individuals who have contributed them; you have no idea who they are.

I respect everyone's right to share their ideas, but Mr. Gibson hasn't done that.  He's shared the ideas of five other individuals.  Quotes can be amazing tools, they should be used to support and add value to what we have to say...not replace it.

Date: Thu, 20 Oct
From: "ron g"

Hi Dr Phil.
I have been reading the opinions from your students and feel very sad for you having to teach that class this semester. Since a large portion seem to want to discuss the "Law" and "criminal" issue, I thought I'd like to add a couple quotes of importance:

"I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, [...] is in reality expressing the highest respect for law." ---- Martin Luther King Jr.

"Just as it is the duty of all men to obey just laws, so it is the duty of all men to disobey unjust laws."---- Martin Luther King Jr.

"The law will never make men free; it is men who have got to make the law free. They are the lovers of law and order, who observe the law when the government breaks it."---- Henry David Thoreau

"An unjust law is itself a species of violence. Arrest for its breach is more so."---- Mahatma Gandhi

"Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add 'within the limits of the law', because law is often but the tyrant's will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual."---- Thomas Jefferson

"There's no way to rule innocent men. The only power government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren't enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws."---- Ayn Rand

Date: Tue, 18 Oct
From: "Josh H"

Do we allow criminals to control our lives? Yesterday the illegal strike reached a new level; Camosun college was shut down. Well at least all of my classes were cancelled due to support staff showing their "support" for the strike. Teachers refused to cross the picket lines and by doing so all of them endorsed a criminal act. I have a few questions now... Do I recieve any monatary amount back for the instructional time lost? Will I recieve a refund for the time I lost at my fitness course, because the facility was closed? I believe the answers to these questions are a strong and resounding "NO"! My classes were cancelled because teachers were afraid to cross picket lines,because of the thought that it might weaken the union. Unions are needed, they were an incredable invention, giving the working class a fighting shot at equality, but perhaps their power has gone too far. The teachers union may be in for a shock, no matter what argument you present: No one is above the law. I am all for a hard-line approach. An example must be made. Personally I do NOT want interest groups having the power to influence decisions in parliment by illeagl action. And yes I did vote liberal, and believe me, I would do it again.

Date: Sat, 15 Oct
From: "Cindy J"

In Response to the Anonymous Teacher...  My first thought is... I don't know how every-one feels about any-one entering this blog anonymously? teacher or student? especially in sociology! if you want to contribute welcome the acknowledgement. People can say a lot of things, but standing behind what you say is another. Especially when it comes to Teaching, Law, and Politics. (quote) "This do not fit with basic statistic analysis"?  we all make errors, even teachers. The idea of "lead by example" comes to mind! Yes there is a limitation in the charter...under section (32) Application of Charter the Exception... Any legislature may pass an act violating certain aspects, as long as it says explicitly that it is doing so. Strange System which courts can overrule the legislature but legislatures can overrule the courts? Notwithstanding clause, Section 33 of the Charter, allows federal or provincial governments to pass laws that violate certain sections of the Charter. Reasonable limits clause, Section 1 of the Charter, which allows the courts to uphold a law even if it violates a Charter right? Taken from the Canadian Politics concise third edition, Rand Dyck, and The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the Constitution Act of 1982. Recently myself, along with a group of students, felt extremely let down by a Teacher's disregard of obvious misconduct, and to make matters seemingly more crucial, these are Criminal Justice Students. What kind of message does that give? It is no wonder our system lacks Integrity? Somehow we all have to strive to be more Vigilant. Especially our Teachers.

C. Jones

Date: Wed, 12 Oct
From: David C

Hello Dr. Phil,
For the "Law" blog:

I do not support any illegal actions...it undermines the democratic system.  Having said that,  when the freedoms we sacrifice to maintain the social contract become too great, we are often left with little choice but to revolt.  There are times when certain actions challenge our fundamental beliefs.

David C

Wed, 12 Oct
From: "Anonymous Teacher"

Can you please change the last paragraph of this post?
It currently reads "..this do not fit..." which is clearly not correct English.  It should read "...this does not fit..."


Comment:  As I say on this web site, I do not edit student contributions, except to remove telephone numbers, email addresses and ID numbers.  I can see why you want to change the contribution.  Obviously ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which you will put, as in: "fought hard for."  You have a unique way of spelling "Canadians" without the second "a."  We learn that there is a difference between measuring and counting, and should talk about "fewer members," rather than "less members."  The word "media" is a plural word, the singular of which is "medium." such as newspapers, radio, TV.  It might better be said as "media today have been" rather than "has."  I do not like the idea of anonymous contributions, and request that you identify yourself, but then, I can understand why you used a hotmail address and wrote anonymously.~~~ Phil Bartle

Date: Wed, 12 Oct
From: David C

I do not support any illegal actions...it undermines the democratic system.  Having said that,  when the freedoms we sacrifice to maintain the social contract become too great, we are often left with little choice but to revolt.  There are times when certain actions challenge our fundamental beliefs.

Date: Oct-12
From: RD Hudson

I applaud the teachers decision to strike. I think it is essential and important for teachers to be striking right now. I think they are living what they believe in and teach... Can a more powerful lesson be taught? To simply obey a law because it is a law is naive and unwise. Where would the world be if no one ever stood up to unjust laws? We collectively agree to live together and the law is a formalized writing of our social contract (not of one group asserting its rights at the expense of other groups). It is essential that the law recognises the needs of all parties involved. People fought long and hard for the right to strike, form unions and have decent workers rights in this country. In the past few years we've seen those hard won rights challenged and eroded in the face of globalization ideology. When workers lose the right to strike basic human rights and needs will be/are violated. That is not a Canada I want to live in. I like living in a democracy not a totalitarian state that exploits people.

The Camosun faculty decided to strike in sympathy with the teachers, and that was a Monday. I do not teach on Mondays. Camosun in its wisdom docked a day's pay from my salary because I did not show up.


Date: Wed, 12 Oct
From: Susan W

The initial post commented on educators having a responsibility to emphasize the importance in abiding by the law. I fully agree. However I can also see the opposite standpoint being the importance in teaching our children not to let people, or the government, walk all over us and compromise our rights. Perhaps the teachers aren't taking the best path, but perhaps the government isn't either. Having met such a rigid opposition so quickly might be a good indication that taking a step back, returning things to as they were, and considering more closely the impact of their proposal could prove more beneficial in the long run. I agree that education is incredibly important, especially for those nearing graduation. But for those grads that might continue on to education, they're going to want to be entering their field on fair grounds. Myself included.

Date: Tue, 11 Oct
From: "Anonymous Teacher"

The strike action that you are all commenting on is missing a few things:

Please see: http://www.bctf.ca/TakingAStand/archive/2005-06/2005-10-07.html
The current BC government is not respecting the international labour courts, nor is it respecting fundamental rights that Canadian labour has fought hard for.

In 1919, in Winnipeg, labour went on general strike to show employers in general that they have the right to refuse to offer labour.  This right is being denied to teachers, however, in line with the right of all Candians to protest against unlawful laws, the teachers are protesting against Teachers' Collective Agreement Act (AKA Bill 12).

While there is a good argument about essential services not being able to strike, essential services are those social offerings that are required to maintain "public health and safety" (See Canadian Labour Code).  Education, while arguably a right for all citizens (not a guaranteed right under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms), is not an essential service.  Which other essential service is not available 24 hours a day?

The media today has been reporting that only a slight majority of the membership turned out for the vote to strike until they vote to return.

They are reporting that at 90% vote in favour, there is less than a majority of members who voted in favour of this action.  This do not fit with basic statistic analysis.  A representative sample of teachers was taken, and from this representative sample, an overwhelming majority of the sample supported this action.

Date: Tue, 11
From: "~*Tara*~"

I am somewhat saddened by the recent teachers strike. For high school grade 12 students, this is a very important year for the students to prepare themselves for post secondary opportunites, which means they have to work hard and gain the most knowledge they can from their teachers and studies...but how are they supposed to do so when the teachers are out there walking the line for their rights? This poses a threat on all students, not just "grade 12's," you never stop learning, and that is why it is important to have teachers in our lives. My younger siblings are affected by this strike, so it hits close to home, fortunately as university/college students, our main concern is never-ending tuition hikes, and trying to find parking at the campus at 8:34 a.m .....

Date: Tue, 11 Oct
From: "Spencer M"

I realize that some of this has already been stated, so I hope that everything has not already been stated.  Simply, I am for the teachers strike.  Those who are opposed to it, I believe, are not aware of the actual reasons for it to have been started in the first place.  The teachers have the right to negotiate their contract, and some people believe that didn't like what was offered...so they went on strike.  The fact is that the teachers have not had a negotiated contract, or even the chance to sit down and talk about a reasonable contract, for almost two years.  Regardless to that fact that teacher want salary, class sizes and working and learning conditions addressed...here are some more facts.  Seven or so years ago, BC teachers made a contract with the current government (at the time NDP) to not take a salary increase, but instead reduce class size to a reasonable level, and this stayed in effect for a few years.  When the Liberal government took over, they decided (on their own) to take that part out of the teachers contract.  More recently, the liberal government told teachers that “at the negotiation table,” they would not be able to talk about “class sizes, wage increases, or working conditions,” followed by (not in so many words)“ now lets talk about that contract.”  This left teachers with nothing to plea for.  This strike may be affecting the children in public school, but it is no more the teachers fault for this effect than it is the government.  I know that I would not want the person who writes my checks to tell me that I have no right to the conditions of my employment. When it comes to “breaking the law,” the law needs to first be fair.  The government can impose any law that may not always seem fair to the public.  If the voices of those which the law affects are not heard, actions such as the strike need to be taken to protect their freedoms.

Date: Mon, 10 Oct
From: "ron g"

"Illegal" strike? or the removal of workers Rights?

I am definitely in favour of a stance against government legislation which limits the working class from rising up against their employers.

Unions have been squashed indiscriminately since 1980 and since then government has assisted in continued legislation limiting the ability of workers to take a stand. Now that strikes are considered illegal because of a deemed "essential service" title, who's to say that every service will fall under some kind of new category deemed in need. "In need of profit service" is the next step for corporations to push government into creating a new law. Then every law abiding citizen ... or should we say "worker oppressing citizen with false consciousness" will stand up for big business in the idea of what is right and what is wrong- legality?. Approximately 85% of law was created to protect corporations and their property in case of any disrupts from workers all stemming back to the Ludites. The laws have always been to protect the rich and oppress the poor. The "Poor Act" comes to mind. Now we believe that 6% unemployment is necessary. Although unemployment is a government choice which only represses workers and keeps wages low (Keynes Theory).

The bulk of our working class, which is about 80% of the people in Canada, need to remove the rose coloured lenses from our eyes. With the middle class continually pushed down through wage decreases, downsizing, privatization, and negative government legislation, we need to wake up and take back our workers rights to stand up and strike. Without this right the working class holds no power and no voice and will only increase the polarization of our two-tier class system.

In the news about a month ago I read about a woman protesting in front of the white house against Bush's War. She was hauled off to jail and fined because she used a microphone to communicate to the crowd of citizens that believed in her plea. The reason she was fined? New government legislation. She required a permit from the government to use a microphone to protest the government. Funny how you can always see a problem from the standpoint of who benefits most. The capitalist class.  When will people rise up against our government of elected officials who are put in place to assist their people? Instead government only acts as a puppet against their own people to oppress and further corporate objectives of union and worker suppression. The choice of puppet number one and puppet number two has never mattered, the working class has been getting the shaft for 25 years.. Since Mulroney, Reagan and Thatcher began the shift away from the Keynesian state and our golden years, to our "new-right" capitalist dominated times.

In my opinion the strike is not as important as the ability the strike gives to waking up public perspectives. Unfortunately I am optimistic this will be achieved, if the Hijacking of the ferry in France by its workers a few weeks ago would prove. A ferry was hijacked by its workers who were protesting the upcoming privatization of the ferry system in France. The French military was called in to control the situation (as what has always happened when workers rise up in other countries against changes that hurt them and the people.. only to find the government sends in the military to silence them by ANY means). The strikers are now facing possible jail terms of up to 20 years.

If workers don't have the ability to strike what power do they have? And once the workers have no power what do you think will happen? I see a massive shift to the bottom with the richest few on the top and the masses in the oppressed class on the bottom. Of course this is when Marxian theory gets tested.

Date: Mon, 10 Oct
From michelle

I don't blame the teachers at all, I stand by them for every second of it.  They need to fight for what they deserve.  Yah it's unfair for the students but the teachers deserve a lot more.  Look what happened to medical.  They came to an agreement way too soon and now look at them.  Our medical is screwed.

Date: Sun, 09 Oct
From: "Ben M"

I have a fifty-fifty stance on the teacher's strike. On one hand I am in favour of the "illegal" strike. Class sizes and cuts to support staff are out of control. Teachers, nowadays, have it quite rough. Conversely, the legal side of me does not support the strike. When people break the law they are basically tossing out any order we have in our society. However, this brings up and argument that the removal of collective bargaining rights is also illegal. In my mind at least; it is a tautology (I hope that is not out of context).

To sum my argument up: Teachers do deserve a better deal than the one that is currently before them. However, it is essential that the bargaining be done in the boundaries of our legal construct, because what is the point of legislation if no one abides to it.

A side note: If any parents in the class are incurring extra costs in day care or other programs as a direct result of the "illegal" strike; you may want to consider spear-heading a class action suit against the BCTF. It will most likely be successful.

Date: Mon, 10 Oct
From: Jonathon T
Teachers On Strike
by Paul Finch
edited by Jonathon G

The British Columbia Teacher's Federation(BCTF) went out on strike Friday, bringing over 42,000 of their members onto the picket line in a strike called illegal by the Labour Relations Board and strike-busting legislation brought in by the BC Government. The indefinite strike means 600,000 students are out of classes, as the province's elementary and secondary schools have closed.

Public sector unions working in education-related fields have vowed to support the BCTF. Over 25,000 Canadian Union of Public Employees support workers, and numerous other workers from unions such as the BCGEU, are refusing to cross the picket lines.

The wildcat strike, being declared as a political protest by some within the union, comes after the Government's representatives effectively refused to collectively bargain with the union. In September, teachers voted 88.4% in favour of a strike mandate. The Government's response on Monday was to introduce Bill 12 – a piece of legislation forcing teachers back to work under the same conditions for a year without negotiation.

In the face of draconian measures making any strike by the BCTF an illegal act, the teachers voted 90.5% in favour of strike action on a second vote on Wednesday.  On Friday, teachers flooded the picket lines as political activists, students, unionists, and members of the community came out in force to support the strike. Public reaction has so far been strongly in support of the strike.

The Teachers are demanding a return to collective bargaining rights in the province, and their fight is one of demanding fundamental rights to freedom of association through unions. Their chief bargaining demand is reduced class sizes and the restoration of services to students that have been cut by the Government. They are also demanding an increase in wages, while the Government has clearly stated they want no increases (the Government is refusing to offer them an increase), meaning the value of wages will actually fall in the face of cost-of-living increases.

A History of Strike Breaking

The dominant political party in BC, the BC Liberals led by Gordon Campbell, has a history of strike breaking and aggressive privatization of public assets. In April and May of 2004, the Campbell government imposed a 14% pay cut and massive privatization on the Hospital Employee's Union, triggering wildcat sympathy strikes throughout the province. Although the HEU strike was eventually put down through a controversial deal orchestrated with the trade union bureaucracy, resentment towards government remains high across the province.

While the BCTF's strike is about freedom of association and collective bargaining, it is also a fight over the future direction of the public education system. The core demands of the teachers revolve around restoration of student services and (reasonable) class sizes. There is also the question of privatization, as the Government has pursued an aggressive policy of privatization and union-busting throughout the public sector. There are strong signs that the government may move towards privatizing parts of the public education system if they are able to win in their fight against the teachers.

Political Response

The New Democratic Party, led by Carol James, currently the opposition party to the BC Liberals in the provincial legislature, is seen by many as the leading political opposition to the Government's policies. However, during the 90's the NDP majority government steamrolled over the BCTF during two consecutive terms.

While the NDP wants to gain political mileage from the conflict by publicly issuing statements of support for the teachers, they have refused to concretely support the illegal strike. Carol James, the leader of the party, has said the teachers should "obey the law" when it comes to defying back-to-work legislation imposed by the government.

There is also skepticism over the role of the BC Federation of Labour, who have recently stepped into negotiations with the government over the dispute. While the BCFed backs the BCTF, many working people remember the BCTF's sellout of the HEU strikers in May of 2004. The BCFed's refusal to organize resistance to the assault on trade unionism pushed by the government in 2002 also puts in doubt the bureaucracy's commitment to supporting the strikers.

While the Campbell government calls for strikers to "return to work" and for "respect for the rule of law", they are increasingly facing accusations of unfairly applying the law. In the case of Telus workers who have been on strike against the private-sector telecommunications company for weeks, the government and courts have consistently refused to punish corporate management for using replacement workers in clear violation of the Labour Relations Code.

Support for the strike remains strong throughout the province, with both the Government and BCTF digging in their heels for a show down that could determine the future of the public education system and collective bargaining in the province.

Date: Sun, 09 Oct
From: "Josh H"

The current teacher strike does not affect me personally, but it does affect my siblings. Law is law in my opinion and as an educator one should be educating children on the importance of abiding by law in a civilized society. Granted teachers concerns may be well founded and their fight may be just, but as I see it they voted for the NDP (a complete generalization) and the majority of the public voted for the liberals and the liberals won. When a service is deemed to be essential, strikes become unacceptable, where would we be if the police went on strike? Teachers need to realize that who they are really hurting are the students first and foremost. Elections are where democratic people make their power and decisions felt, not during illegal strikes. Next time I drive by a school I may have to make a citizens arrest.

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