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

An open letter to Jim Iker

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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

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EcoCollectivist

Jun 17, 2014 at 4:12pm

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.

union member

Jun 17, 2014 at 4:18pm

No, please.

Holy Rhetoric

Jun 17, 2014 at 4:26pm

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.

Natty

Jun 17, 2014 at 4:28pm

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.

Gene

Jun 17, 2014 at 4:51pm

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 (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/wente-overeducated-and-under...).

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

Also, NoMo PoMo.

Hank Phillips

Jun 17, 2014 at 5:12pm

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.

Joey Fluffhead

Jun 17, 2014 at 5:17pm

Let's wreck the party. Tax the rich, freeze their bank accounts and don't let them leave Canada.

reap what you sew

Jun 17, 2014 at 5:31pm

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?

History

Jun 17, 2014 at 6:05pm

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.

Fran

Jun 17, 2014 at 7:50pm

Alex,
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.

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