Winners and losers in the B.C. teachers' strike

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      The end of the teachers' strike is being greeted with relief both within government and at the B.C. Teachers' Federation head office in Vancouver.

      The BCTF can take pleasure in the strength of the yes vote—86 percent. It came after considerable grumbling that the agreement didn't do nearly enough to address the central issue: class size and composition.

      Teachers weren't receiving strike pay and there was a risk that if the dispute didn't end soon, it could undermine solidarity. For the BCTF executive, a yes vote puts an end to that concern and ensures that it won't be bounced for supporting a deal spurned by the membership.

      The stakes were also high for the premier and education minister.

      Prior to the tentative agreement, the government was getting hammered for spurning the union's offer for binding arbitration. It sent a message to the public that Premier Christy Clark didn't care about public education.

      What was especially galling was that she was able to pack her son off to private school while parents across the province had to scramble to find childcare.

      Education Minister Peter Fassbender also suffered some political damage as voters learned more about his history in the advertising and public-relations business. He won his seat by the narrowest of margins in 2013. The strike could easily hurt his reelection chances.

      That's because it became increasingly clear that the B.C. Liberals were engaged in a massive spin campaign to make teachers look greedy when they're actually paid less than their colleagues in other provinces. Once this was laid bare, trust in Fassbender declined.

      Many other facts about the B.C. education system became clear over the course of the strike. Anyone who was paying attention could tell that B.C. public-school students are being shortchanged by the amount of money going into education in this province in comparison with others.

      Anything the government can do to shift attention away from this will help the B.C. Liberals with their damage-control efforts.

      So who were the winners in this strike? Certainly not the students. But others came out of it looking a little brighter.

      B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan showed a lot of common sense in an opinion piece published in the Victoria Times-Colonist.

      Horgan took exception to the premier standing on the sidelines in the dispute. (I believe that Clark went AWOL because her p.r. team was following a communications strategy conceived by former U.S. president Ronald Reagan's favourite spin doctor.)

      Another winner in this dispute is the B.C. Nurses' Union, which ponied up $500,000 for striking teachers while the most other unions would do was provide interest-free loans.

      (The B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union also contributed cash to the hardship fund and showed extraordinary generosity by offering $3 million in interest-free loans, which was far more than any other union.)

      With its gift to the teachers, the B.C. Nurses' Union may have helped heal a bit of the damage caused by its previous raids on the Hospital Employees' Union membership. That has caused a great deal of bitterness within the labour movement.

      Other winners in the strike have been commentators outside of the mainstream media, including Sandy Garossino, Jane Bouey, Katie Hyslop, children's troubadour Raffi, and the Staffroom Confidential blog. They sometimes provided the deepest insights into what was going on.

      In the process, striking teachers and parents discovered new sources of information. This encouraged them to keep up the fight for a better school system at a time when some mainstream media journalists seemed like they were being bamboozled by government spin.

      The biggest winer of all, however, might turn out to be the public schools themselves. Nothing can compare to the strike, not even two court decisions, in educating parents and the rest of the public about the long-term impact of the B.C. Liberal government's decision to shred the teachers' contract in 2002.

      This lesson will not be lost for a long time on thinking British Columbians.

      Teachers made enormous sacrifices by walking picket lines and going without pay. They can take comfort in their efforts boosting the resolve of many B.C. residents to maintain a greater focus on public education in the years to come.




      Sep 19, 2014 at 10:01am

      Kudos to the government for holding the line on the teachers' wage demands. Fact is, we have a surplus of teachers in BC. Whether they are paid more or less than those in other provinces is irrelevant. Supply and demand.

      I am disappointed, however, that the government wasn't more ambitious in this negotiation. This represented a generational opportunity to break the union's stranglehold on educational policy, and re-make the system into one that puts students and parents first, not the union.

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      ursa minor

      Sep 19, 2014 at 10:02am

      Another winner: The Georgia Straight, for not accepting BC Government advertising like other "progressive" media outlets did, calling out BC Liberal 'Digital Influencers' and Charlie Smith speaking truth to power and calling out Christy Clark at every opportunity.

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      Sep 19, 2014 at 10:08am

      The real winners are the readers, since we'll finally be able to read about important issues other than what teachers want and written by people other than Charlie Smith.

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      Sep 19, 2014 at 10:28am

      So many lessons to be learned from this - and the biggest eye opener for me is the agenda of Christy Clark's government and their determination to:

      - disrespect the law of the land and spend our money willy nilly on fighting and negating Supreme Court decisions,

      - underfund public schools and spew forth as many unkind words and lies as possible to negatively portray teachers and defenders of public education

      - define the affordability zone as anywhere they want and when they want (eg concrete is always affordable but money for public education isn't) is destructive.

      AND last but not least, their manipulation to control the negotiations without meaningful input of our locally elected school boards is NOT a winner for anyone of us. Their resolve to do ANYTHING and EVERYTHING to ensure their political agenda trumped all reason and sanity and eroded our democracy.

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      Sep 19, 2014 at 10:40am

      I'm relieved to hear the strike has come to a close. I'm not a teacher or parent, but I am a strong believer in the power of unions. I'm very proud of the BCTF and what it has accomplished over this past summer. At the end of the day, they made our single minded government look arrogant and deceitful to the province of BC.

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      You forgot to mention the readers of the Straight.

      Sep 19, 2014 at 12:07pm

      We all win because we don't have to read anymore BCTF propaganda masquerading as a Charlie Smith column. Even for Charlie these have been over the top.

      Also, that Horgan piece was garbage. It's actually funny that's all the NDP can muster up in a battle they were supposedly "winning". Keep up that "winning" strategy. I'm starting to believe perpetual opposition is the goal of the NDP. That or the delusion is so thick you're nearly blind.

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      Arthur Vandelay

      Sep 19, 2014 at 12:41pm

      Say what? Horgan is a winner with an op-ed piece in a Victoria newspaper? Charlie, this stretches the bounds of credibility. On what is undoubtedly one of the most important provincial issues we will face in this election cycle, Horgan was at least as AWOL as the premier. I never saw his face once on any TV newscast nor heard him on radio newscast and I pay attention to both.

      I heard his education critic once on the CBC (radio) morning show and he was the usual NDP politician chastising the current government without any specifics of what an NDP administration would do, most notably how much more money they would bring to the issue. The usual unbelievable NDP promises to cure all social ills without any indication of how much it would cost or how they would fund it.

      Horgan's performance here could only be conceived a win in the minds of NDP faithful. Its these kinds of wins that keep the NDP on the opposition benches.

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      Sep 19, 2014 at 3:00pm

      The info in this wrap piece seems an awful lot like "peanut gallery" commentary. I preferred today's piece by Stephen Smart for the CBC. Fair and unbiased reporting.

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      Sep 19, 2014 at 4:34pm

      The biggest losers are the students with special needs. It is disappointing that a deal was ratified which saw the union force a fund which included a good amount of money for Special Needs Assistants to be turned into a hiring fund exclusively for their union members, leaving the lowest amount possible to bring more specialist SEA support into classrooms. I guess the kids with Special Needs can get what they deserve in 5 years time - pity they can't mud-sling as loudly as the Union and Government cronies.

      The Union and Government have ignored another chance to look at the setup for funding Special Needs issues and yet again, due to their opposing ideological positions have wasted most of the times banging on with ridiculous claims about "unlimited massages" and "how public education is trying to be dismantled".

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