Education featured Labour

Op-ed: Glaze Report – Hoping for civil disobedience and solidarity

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – I know it won’t be easy, but now that we know what’s in the new education bill, I hope teachers walk out, work to rule, do something. For the children, for the sake of democracy, and because there comes a time unions must defend their hard fought gains. I also very much hope the teachers won’t be alone in that fight.

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Stephen McNeil’s attacks on unions and well established collective bargaining conventions have been sweeping.

Bill 30, the home care strike bill to force Northwood Home Care workers back to work. The contract imposed on the Capital Health nurses, members of the NSGEU. Bill 1, the amalgamation of District Health Boards and supposedly of health unions as well. Bill 148, imposing a four-year wage package on 70,000 civil servants. Bill 75, ditto for teachers.

And in the current legislative session we have the education bill, removing principals from the teachers union, and getting rid of elected English school boards. The hurried legislation is a blow to democracy, and another step towards the commodification of education. Addressing that commodification, educator Molly Hurd writes, “Education is not a business, children are not widgets and teachers aren’t assembly line workers.”

Rallies are useful but don’t typically change governments’ minds. Thankfully, this time there is another option. This time teachers by a large majority voted in favour of of the time honoured practice of civil disobedience.

Historically any major victory won by the unions was the result of “illegal” job action. The right to belong to a union, to bargain, to withdraw labour, all these rights were won through “illegal” strikes. It stands to reason that when government wants to remove these rights, union members have no choice but to look at illegal strikes once again.

It’s difficult to take job action any time, and especially so under the current conditions. Government will talk about repercussions, not just for the union, but possibly for the teachers themselves. Not all parents and students will be supportive. There will be nasty rumors. Media will remind us that what teachers are doing is “illegal” at every opportunity.  

This is why it would be so helpful if other government workers affected by McNeil’s heavy handed approach were to join the teachers’ fight. I am thinking first of all of the workers in CUPE and the NSGEU who work in the school system, the librarians, teaching assistants, custodians, bus drivers, and so forth, but also the nurses and the provincial civil servants, maybe others as well.

Supportive strikes could be one tactic, but there are other ways to send a message as well. Workers can all call in sick at the same time, they can work to rule, take an extended lunch break to attend a rally. There are all sorts of ways to let governments know that you mean business.

Perhaps something along the lines of the Ontario Days of Action could be made to happen here.

The Days of Action were a series of rolling, one-day general strikes in the mid-nineties, occurring in different towns and cities, and aimed at sending a message to the provincial Conservative government of Mike Harris, who, much like McNeil, stood for austerity, balanced budgets over the backs of the poor, and union bashing. Needless to say, these strikes too were “illegal.”

Ontario’s Days of Action weren’t an unmitigated success, and the actions didn’t just happen spontaneously. It took careful coalition building among a pretty diverse bunch of unions, and convincing workers, many of whom had voted for Harris not that long ago, wasn’t easy. Yet unions made a strategic decision to pursue that course, they flexed their muscles, and they sent a message.  

I fear that it won’t happen here in Nova Scotia, but I very much hope I am wrong. One thing is for sure, it will never happen until we start talking about it.

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