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