Saturday, June 7, 2014

Why I Will Vote Yes

I’m no expert on the BCTF, labour law, or any type of union negotiations.  It’s very possible that my take on this entire process is naïve, or misguided, or just plain wrong. I sincerely hope that the people in charge of negotiations on our side are judging the situation much better than I am, and that the results of our current struggle are going to be very different than I am afraid they are.  Perhaps the purpose of the strike vote is to get another strong mandate from the union, to show the government that we are united in willing to fully walk off the job.  I hope so, because the alternative seems like a fatal mistake to me.
The gist of the Griffin case that the government shocked and horrified so many by appealing (and I never got that.  With so much money on the line, and so much face for them to lose with that decision, of course they were going to appeal. They had no other option.) was that the government was negotiating in bad faith, that their entire strategy was to stall, delay, and frustrate the BCTF into an all-out strike.  This was their end-game, the thing that they most of all wanted us to do.  Do we really think that has drastically changed in any of the negotiations since?
To me, it didn’t seem like the Phase One strike mode we were in was doing much… no emails, no meetings, not much change and not much impact.  If that were the case, however, then why did the government take the unprecedented step they took with the lockout?  It was a drastic, confrontational action that seemed illogical, vindictive and poorly thought out.  I now still believe the latter two points (are we finished with the clarifications yet?), but with how things have played out since, I’m starting to understand the logic of it.  Escalate, increase pressure, take the initiative.  Be in control.  What I didn’t get at the time was that the action could do nothing but increase teachers’ resolve, make us more unified… wasn’t that counter-productive to the government’s side in this?  Perhaps, unless they don’t think they will break us this time, but instead just want to beat us into submission.  Then, a unified union (redundant?) is exactly what they want… a strike will just come sooner.
I hate… no, I HATE, the idea of striking for so many reasons, especially at this time of year.  Mid-June should be a celebration of the just completed year for the younger grades, and that vital prep time for stressful and important final exams for the older ones.  These are kids we have worked our asses off for, and with, for nine months, and they deserve better than having us walk out in the last few days of the school year.  This is my first year of teaching, my first time having my kids (and they have become, in so many ways, my kids) for an entire year, and I have come to realize that I love the job, and I have a knack for it.  I’m not a great, or in some ways even a good, teacher yet, but the potential is there, and it will come with experience. I don’t want to end my year like this… but at this point, where are right now, I don’t think we have any choice.
There is a lot of talk on Twitter right now about what a No vote would mean; and I think that some of the more militant members of the BCTF are doing themselves, and their colleagues, a disservice with how coercive and, at times, bullying, they are coming across.  People who vote no will do so because they don’t believe a strike is in our best interests, in their students’ best interests, in the best interests of the public education system that you have to care about if you work in it.  I seriously considered it, and in many ways believe it would be the right thing to do; but I won’t.
As bad as a unified strike will be for our cause, in my opinion, it would be infinitely worse to have our union split down the middle over what we should do.  A weak mandate, widespread dissension within the union, in-fighting even as we are in the midst of a bigger battle, and we are done for.  Now is not the time to eat our own.  There will be questions once this is said and done, about the leadership, about our strategy, about where our money has gone to, but this is not the time to ask those questions.  I am rarely a pessimistic person, but in this moment, with these negotiations, I am there.  As Ben Franklin so aptly put it, we must all hang together, or we will surely hang separately.  I think our options now are a strike and imposed settlement, or a broken union.  I sincerely hope I’m wrong.
And it is not just our union’s future that is at stake here, make no mistake.  This government has mounted a systematic attack on the public education system, and we who provide it.  If we let them push forward their agenda, unchecked, the results to our public school system will be devastating.  It is no coincidence that Christy Clark’s son goes to private school; it is no coincidence that our current Minister of Education once said that the BCTF should get out of education.  They are not looking to make a deal here.  They are looking to break us.

I am no longer hopeful that any deal will be reached at the table, with the current situation.  We have handled the endgame poorly, and have taken a stand at a time I don’t think we should have.  That said, our options are limited.  We can strike, and deal with whatever comes from that, or we can split down the middle, and face the end of our union.
Better beaten than broken.  I will vote Yes.

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