The need for a general public sector strike in B.C.

An open letter to Jim Iker

Alex Charron is a graduate student in political economy at the University of Victoria. He sent us this open letter, which is addressed to British Columbia Teachers' Federation president Jim Iker:

Dear Mr. Iker,

Thank you for your work negotiating on behalf of teachers. You have my full support in this fight. I believe that the current struggle is part of a larger campaign of resistance which must be waged against a neoliberal government seeking to reduce social expenditures to a minimum in order to please a capitalist class which refuses to fund budget items which don’t directly raise its rate of profit. It is a pity that the public doesn’t see this clearly and that workers in all sectors don’t join with teachers in resisting these types of pressures and in defending society against the imperatives of profit.

Indeed, I am writing today to urge you to reach out to other BC public sector workers to ask them to join with teachers in a general public sector strike. I believe that without such an escalation, it will be difficult to win your fight.

In an industrial production setting, the capitalist class has strong incentives to avoid strikes and to resolve them quickly when they occur (often using the most brutal and illegal tactics). This is because any interruption in the movement of capital is accompanied by a devaluation of that capital. Thus while industrial workers suffer during a strike by losing their pay, capital suffers as well.

But the incentives are not the same when it comes to government. Each additional day of strike reduces the government’s wage bill. Furthermore, prolonging the strike has the perverse effect of turning people against teachers. In short, I think it is to the advantage of the government to have a teachers’ strike go as long as possible. I fear that if things stay as they are now, teachers will be forced to submit to the government’s demands under this framework of distorted incentives sooner or later. That the government is also thinking and strategizing along these lines can be seen clearly enough in the stonewalling tactics which have been used throughout by the BCPSEA.

What is needed is to find a way to really make government feel the pinch, and I believe the way to do this is with a general public sector strike. These kinds of mobilizations have toppled government in the developing world in the latter half of the 20th century. These also have the benefit of disrupting economic activity and thereby incentivizing the capitalist class to lean on their government proxies to get them to achieve a resolution, even if this means acceding to worker demands.

I believe other public sector unions have every reason to support teachers if they can be made to conceptualize the situation as part of a larger struggle of workers against capital and the neoliberal state – which transparently represents the latter’s class interests. For, if teachers lose this fight, how long before other public unions come under the chopping block (many already have). I implore you to reach out to these other unions with this message. If they and the general public support you, it may be possible to defend society a little while longer against neoliberalism. If not, I fear that teachers will face an uphill battle.

Warmest regards,

Alex Charron

Comments (38) Add New Comment
Screw a General Public Sector Strike. Lets do a full on General Strike. Public and private sector. You will have a deal in about 24 hours after that. Suddenly the BC Government will have all the money in the world for Public Education.
Rating: +76
union member
No, please.
Rating: -17
Holy Rhetoric
The backlash to a general strike would be so swift and severe public sector unions would never survive. Teachers are top percentile earners, have a benefit package that's second to none and get 3.5 months off a year. Only a naive career student living in la la land would think they're hard done by. Now that's the truth.
Rating: -68
Union members already get a sweet deal when it comes to pay and benefits. Now a strike for all PRIVATE sector employees...that would really be something to think about.
Rating: -17
Somebody just got their copy of Das Kapital.

A more apt analogy from Marx would be the reserve army of labour that forms the spine of the teaching profession in B.C. The number of surplus graduate teachers in BC was 1700 in 2011. Ontario has found the need to shrink teaching programs (

Pro tip: don't withhold labour when you're so very replaceable.

Also, NoMo PoMo.
Rating: -6
Hank Phillips
Public Sector Unions sound like the best thing on Earth until you actually start working for one. As a member you see people that don't deserve a raise getting raises, promoted over you due to years of service vs actual competency, relatively poor administration from union stewards (seriously I got my union card approximately one year after leaving), and a general desire to strike regardless of the final resolution (let's go on strike to only agree on a 1% raise by the time a resolution is reached you likely lose any gain you would have made). I know unions have don't great work for all employees but seriously they need to adapt to the times, union membership is at an all time low in Canada and I personally believe it's because they are stuck in the past. There needs to be a willingness to strike a fine balance between job security and some kind of merit based payment system. Unless unions are willing to innovate somewhat I fear that they will ultimately continue to languish being unable to adapt to the current generation of emloyees entering the workplace.
Rating: +37
Joey Fluffhead
Let's wreck the party. Tax the rich, freeze their bank accounts and don't let them leave Canada.
Rating: +6
reap what you sew
My oldest just graduated grade 12. Twelve years of Christy's personal interference in the public school system of B.C. The kids get it.
There is not likely one kid in her grad class of 450 who intends to enter post secondary to become a teacher.
There are a few kids who think following Christy Clarks lead for an education is an even better idea. Cleary Christy took the fast train to success with her post secondary education. What a wonderful plan! What is Christy's MBA in again, I forget and couldn't find it anywhere on the web?
Those professional role models, you know. Teacher or Politician. Which one are you going to trust with your childrens future?
Rating: +56
Those who denigrate unions and the stand workers take against their employers (private or public sectors) have forgotten what it was like in the early 20th century, or even worse in the late 19th century.

Employers have not changed since then. Only the collective stand of the masses of people have lifted their existence above mere existence. To forget that is to permit a return to oppression and effective slavery.
Rating: +72
You might want to take a few economics courses to balance the Marxist reading you have been doing. Learn about supply and demand, and productivity. There is a surplus of teachers in BC because pay and benefits are so attractive.

I agree with you that the capitalist model does not work well with public sector union activity. Clearly, public sector unions should not be allowed to strike, because the usual incentives are absent. The victims of union job action are the public, not their employers.

If you want a more serious policy issue to explore, you could look at the difference between the generous indexed pensions for public sector workers such as teachers, and those that other people (who are paying for the public sector) have to survive on.
Rating: -1
Great idea. Let's reduce tax revenues and scare off investors, that will really help to fund changes required in the classroom.
Rating: -14
Ann-Marie Hunter
Fran, if you would stop to think about what you're saying with regard to teacher pensions, you would realize that teacher pensions come from their own meagre earnings! Each teacher twice a month, contributes to their pensions, which their group wisely invests to bring about revenue to teachers once they retire! Those pensions do not come from the air! Teachers have given up their pay to invest in their futures! Realize, also, that those invested funds are mostly put into public sector areas - to the benefit of the whole! So . . . when you feel that you have the 'right' to criticize teachers' and other public sector unions' pensions, stop and THINK! You actually don't have that right!
Rating: +38
Fran, no one is stopping "other people" from joining the public sector if they are so dissatisfied with the jobs they have now, other than education, qualifications, and experience. Please don't forget that teachers are taxpayers too. Personally, I view education as a worthy investment in the future of this province. I'm surprised more people do not.
Rating: +53
Arthur Vandelay
I can imagine how proud UVic must be with the practical solutions emanating from it's graduate students. I see no flaws in Alex's well reasoned plan.
Rating: -15
coast guy
You might remember that two years back teachers and public servants (who did strike for the first time in decades) were negotiating at the same time, both with expired contacts. It Was the teachers that passed on a solidarity strike to await an NDP government.
Rating: +12
Pammy J.
Ann-Marie Hunter, you make it sound like the teachers are the only ones contributing to their pension plans, however, as in other unions, your employer also contributes, in this case at a higher rate than teachers. I found this on the Teachers' Pension Plan site: "Employee contribution rates are currently set at:
• 12.50 per cent of your salary up to and including the YMPE
• 14.00 per cent of your salary above the YMPE

Employer contribution rates are currently set at:
• 14.63 per cent of your salary up to and including the YMPE
• 16.13 per cent of your salary above the YMPE"

I think Fran's point was that ultimately the taxpayers pay into the public sector wages, including 'employer' pension contributions.
Rating: +17
great idea
screw the real low wage earners in order to get more gravy for the elite
Rating: +5
One of many capitalists
Anne-Marie Hunter - you need to do your homework. The vast majority of BC Teachers pension is invested in equities and fixed income. Which are not public sector, in fact very private sector. Teachers need the private sector to thrive and perform in order for their pensions to survive.

Some people on this board want to wreck the economy? Then your pensions and retirement funds will suffer.

And guess what, our kids will suffer too. There are plenty of good teachers out there but also some lousy ones - can we please please please find a mechanism to get the lousy teachers out of the system (perhaps by disbanding the stupid unions) and get some newly minted, potentially excellent teachers in to teach our kids.
Rating: +2
Brian H
Teacher Surplus is a Partial Truth

Yes, we have a surplus of qualified teachers in BC due to over enrollment in BC Universities. However, we do not have a surplus of experienced teachers.

I know some of you would love to fire the bunch of us, but would you really like to rehire the surplus of teachers that could not make it through a "Teacher on Call" interview? From my experience only the best newly qualified teachers make it. Many seek other careers.

After spending 10 years in the profession, I was still laid off this year due to further budget cuts by seniority. I spent 6 years obtaining my teaching degree and another 3 years part time completing my Masters. This cost around upwards of $70 000. 2 years overseas, 2 more on a TOC list (Made 23K and 27k those years), 3 years of part time and 3 years of full time. My averaged salary for my first 10 years of teaching is under 50k. I have worked part time/ summer jobs in the trades every year to supplement.

Only a fraction of teachers that make it through the competitive job market, in oversized classrooms with high levels of special needs (and complete a 20k+ master's degree) will start to make a comfortable middle class wage.

The government does not respect the learning conditions of public schools. It does not respect students will special needs. Per student funding is $1000 below national average. When salary is compared to my counterparts around the country, teachers in BC are at the bottom of the list. To be paid the least and work the most (of the largest class sizes and needs in the country) will only go on for so long. 12 years of attacks on education by this government is enough.

We will stand up and hold the line for public education.

Rating: +35
"Learn about supply and demand, and productivity. There is a surplus of teachers in BC because pay and benefits are so attractive."

When your own understanding of economics gets past the 101 level, and you learn about the basic concepts behind the determinants of supply and demand, and some behavioural finance and some neo-keynesianism for good measure, you can give others lectures on "learning supply and demand".

The "surplus" of teachers in BC has far, far less to do with pay and benefits than literally dozens of other factors, many to do with lifestyle and preference, tuition costs, location, and very few to do with direct and indirect compensation.

At the very least, would you care to explain why that "surplus" of teachers is centered in the Lower Mainland and not the rural areas of BC, or is that also just a simple "supply and demand, pay and benefits" issue to you as well? Do we treat our rural teachers so poorly the "pay and benefits" drive them away, compared to our urban teachers (hint-contracts our public record, and rural teachers don't get screwed)

Care to explain why, given the cost of living in the Lower Mainland, those same teachers choose to stay here, which effectively lowers their real compensation? If it is all "pay and benefits", they should be least interested in staying here.

That is in direct opposition to your simplistic interpretation of supply and demand theory regarding pay and benefits.

Supply and demand might be the basic concept underpinning our economic system, but once should not use that phrase if they don't fundamentally understand the nuances and underpinnings of the concepts.

Just because you can drive a car does not mean you know how it actually works beyond the basics.

Rating: -2


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