How to fight, who to fight, what to fight were big topics of discussion for Central Okanagan teachers as they gathered for a mass meeting on the first day of the B.C. teachers’ strike.
“We are losing in the media because the government owns the media,” cried one teacher as open discussion got underway.
Encouraging each other to get on Facebook and teach the public about what is happening within their profession and local schools, the main message of the day was to get teachers’ perspective heard with many noting traditional media have not elected to do so.
A handful pointed the finger at the BC Teachers’ Federation for this, saying the union isn’t getting the message out clearly.
“Some days I feel like we don’t even have a dog in this fight,” said Ryan Holly, of George Elliott Secondary School, who noted he does not believe the BCTF is doing the greatest job.
With well more teachers than the 800-seat theatre could hold, the standing room only crowd appeared orderly and relaxed, accommodating one another around exits and in the foyer as the Central Okanagan Teachers’ Association president, Alice Rees, tried to offer solutions and suggestions over rhetoric.
One man complained the teachers are receiving little help from other unions, while another woman questioned why more of the public aren’t reading Bill 22, the legislation expected to force teachers back to work.
“The B.C. Federation of Labour is working very hard behind the scenes,” said Rees, when asked whether the union was getting additional help. She noted their presence would soon make more of a public appearance and encouraged the teachers to use their teaching ability to educate others on Bill 22, noting the language it contains takes a teacher to explain.
Other unions have already bent to the government’s net-zero mandate on salary, so aren’t readily available to rally to their cause, she said, noting teachers need to point out the other issues on the table and ensure public attention doesn’t stay focused solely on wage demands.
A school counsellor, who was to start her job in the role this week, stood up and said she believes the fight for salaries is legitimate and should be spelled out to ensure cost the lack of cost of living increases don’t leave teachers in the hole. After racking up debt paying for her masters degree and to live during the unpaid internship needed to earn that degree, she was shocked to find the $5368 wage increase it earned her was whittled away to just $500 in this first year. Once increases to all of her benefit programs and pension were factored in, there was almost nothing left to service her new debt, she said.
The comment earned a standing ovation in an otherwise orderly crowd. The only other comment to receive such an outpouring of emotion was over the board of education, who were characterized as uncaring and blank-faced in response to teachers’ concerns at the board meeting held last week.
Meanwhile, the government indicated Monday it would not rush Bill 22 through despite the strike.
The NDP have promised to drag out the legislation as long as possible.
Rees encouraged those angered by the government’s tactics to leave this battle with a very clear mandate to vote the Liberals out of power in 2013.