Despite all efforts by “politicians” across the spectrum to deny
it — and of postmodern academics to obfuscate it out of existence, — the
class struggle has emerged through all the platitudes and into plain sight.
Edited from an article by Derrick O’Keefe and Charles Demers
B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell and the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) are at the centre of a showdown between labour and the province’s corporate-backed government. For a week and a half, since the imposition of Bill 12, teachers have been defying an unjust law and winning major support from organized labour and the general public.
The legislation, which has spawned the slogan “”Kill Bill 12″,” consisted of a three-year wage freeze, and addressed none of the BCTF’s bargaining concerns, such as ballooning class sizes as well as class composition. It was rammed through by the Liberal B.C. Legislature on the basis of earlier legislation that has subjected teachers to “”essential service”” status, stripping them of their legal right to collectively strike, the one source of working class agency in a capitalists’ politico-juridical eden.
After hiding for many days behind the woefully incompetent labour minister Mike de Jong, Campbell emerged with a single, feeble talking-point with which to fight the growing public support for the union: That the teachers had to obey the rushed and illegal legislation crammed through in bad faith by his government because “democracy” is based on the “rule of law.” To reiterate this point, Justice Wally Oppal, —a popular Liberal recruit,— was paraded in front of news cameras parroting the party line.
Now, in the head-to-head battle between British Columbia teachers and the B.C. Liberal regime, the Liberal government appears to be blinking in astonishment at the mounting, solidaristic working class resistance. It may be one of the first contemporary cases in the Anglo American world where neoliberal hardball was met with far-reaching working class hardball.
After days of bombast about refusing to negotiate while teachers carried on the “illegalized strike,” Vince Ready, the default mediator for major labour disputes in the province, has been appointed to “facilitate talks.”
With his infamously pink-faced, drunk driver’s mug shot plastered all across B.C., on picket signs and websites in solidarity with the union, Gordon Campbell’s law-and-order” tough talk isn’t washing with anyone. But even for a man who was using his elite Good Ol’ Boy privileges to cavort in Hawaii with a mistress when he was arrested for committing a potentially deadly crime, Campbell’s appeal to the sanctity of the rule of law is patently and transparently disingenuous and corrupt:
Not only did drunk-driving Campbell, in his first term, tear up legal collective agreements with public sector unions as well as holding an illegal and illegitimate referendum on Native land rights plainly outside of provincial jurisdiction, but the very legislation which he calls on teachers to respect is in contravention of international labour laws to which Canada is a signatory.
The background to this latest mobilization of thousands against the Liberal Campbell government is two-fold: The sustained Liberal attack on the province’s labour movement and the related Liberal efforts to undermine public education and weaken a solid union. The B.C. teachers’ long record of commitment to international solidarity and other progressive causes, in addition to its financial contribution campaigns against the Liberal government, mark it for especially vindictive treatment by the party of the exploiter class.
Also figuring into the dispute has been the Liberal government’s abysmal record on the rights of children and the provision of student services. As exponential increases in post-secondary tuitions (following Campbell’s repeal of the previous NDP government’s tuition freeze) put university education out of the reach of many British Columbians, some districts have
even had to cut to K to 12 education to four-day school-weeks.
In addition, Campbell’s government has stripped bare the legal protections of children at work in the province, giving British Columbia the dubious honour of enforcing the most relaxed restrictions on child labour in North America. Today, the only legal safety net keeping 12-year-old children in four-day districts from working full-time hours in mines or mills is federal legislation concerning those two industries.
Campbell and the B.C. Liberals, fresh off re-election and with the considerable advantage of the corporate media’s sympathetic cooperation, have ramped up their efforts to vilify the teachers and, failing that, to crush them through the liberal courts. Yet the close to 40,000 teachers remain determined, buoyed by province-wide labour and community mobilizations of solidarity.
This morning, public sector workers are expected to shut down a number of services in the B.C. interior’s Kootenays region, joining teachers for rallies in Trail and Cranbrook, among other towns. These actions come a day after a rally and CUPE walkout in Prince George, the economic hub of northern B.C. On Monday, a mass rally at the provincial legislature kicked off a week of solidarity actions coordinated by the B.C. Federation of Labour. Despite all efforts by “respectable politicians” across the spectrum to deny it — and of postmodern academics to obfuscate it out of existence — the class struggle has emerged through all the condescending platitudes and into plain sight.
The struggle was apparent Monday, when, despite persistent rain, the mood of demonstrators in the small provincial capital of Victoria was defiant, if not upbeat. Almost 20,000 turned out to show their support for the latest round of resistance to the neoliberal Campbell agenda. (Print media downplayed the support, pegging their numbers from eight to 15 thousand, with Canada’s “newspaper of record,” The Globe and Mail, managing to offer two varying crowd sizes in yesterday’s issue).
While Victoria workers shut down the city and rallied at the legislature, Campbell waded into the forefront of the dispute after days of leaving the PR to de Jong. The premier, mocked at the rally by his own grinning mug on dozens of signs reading “”drunk with power”” and “”what a real law breaker looks like”, — held a press conference in which he announced that he and his cronies had the courts appointing a special prosecutor to explore charges of criminal contempt against the BCTF. Last Thursday, the court ordered the union’s assets frozen, preventing, among other things, strike pay of $50/day from being paid to teachers.
Speakers at the teachers’ rally were for the most part the heads of the major public sector unions. Also featured were representatives from Teachers’ Federations from every province and territory in Canada. If the crowd was surprised and heartened by the words of solidarity from Nunavut, they were electrified by the words of Thulas Nxesi of the South African Democratic Teachers Union:
“We are appalled at the actions of your government in unilaterally imposing contracts, in stripping away hard won conditions of service, in seeking to outlaw basic labour rights, and in drastically reducing the teaching force. The conditions you describe are reminiscent of those experienced by South African teachers under the Apartheid government. “
A message from Mexican teachers pledged support and reported on a demonstration at the Canadian embassy. The cross-country and international solidarity drove home for many the stakes involved in this fight with the Campbell government.
In addition to mass rallies and statements, solidarity has been expressed in myriad ways. Public sentiment has been expressed through honking, by bringing donuts and home-baked cookies to the picket lines, and even by donating hard cash. The day after the Supreme Court’s ruling ending the $50 daily strike pay, one teacher reported that a complete stranger came to the line and handed over a $50 bill to picketers. The B.C. public has been largely unmoved by the barrage of right-wing talk jocks and anti-worker print editorials.
The teachers’ fight may well be the most critical one yet with the Campbell government. It’s no exaggeration to say that working people around the world are watching the resistance with pride. This province’s educators are determined to teach neoliberal class warriors as well as their working class brothers and sisters some lessons.
Charles Demers and Derrick O’Keefe are co-editors of Seven Oaks, an on-line journal of politics, culture and resistance. Article from rabble.ca. October 19, 2005. “B.C. teachers teach Gordon Campbell a lesson”.