Canada: British Colombia teachers’ strike halts Victoria

Thousands of teachers and public sector workers oppose court rulings

On Monday 17 October, 20,000 teachers and other workers took to the streets of Victoria in a show of strength in their continuing battle with the right wing, provincial Liberal government over the Bill 12 anti-union legislation.

They were joined by parents, students, people from the local community, and thousands of public sector workers, who are members of BC CUPE (Canadian Union of Public Employees) and other unionised workers from across Vancouver Island. These workers acted in solidarity with the 40,000 teachers who are boldly defying anti-union legislation and anti-strike rulings by capitalist courts.

Teachers travelled from across Canada to support the protests, such as from Ontario and Nova Scotia. Presidents of 15 teachers’ organizations across Canada also joined the thousands of protesters at the rally that was organized by the BC Federation of Labour.

The action included pickets set up outside government buildings throughout the greater Victoria area. All library branches were shut, as well as provincial government offices, recreation centres, liquor stores and some construction sites. There were no bus services in the Greater Victoria area.

While the protests were taking place, the provincial Liberal government scrambled around, appointing a special prosecutor to try to take more legal action to try to stop the teachers’ action. In defiance of this, the President of the BC Teachers’ Federation, Jinny Sims, addressed a workers rally, “There is a big difference between breaking a law and having a law created to break you. We will not be broken.”

Around 4,000 CUPE members plan to walk out, in northern BC, on Wednesday 19 October.

BC Federation of Labour President Jim Sinclair warned that another massive shutdown in another part of the province will take place, unless the government backs down.

In a press conference, BC premier, Gordon Campbell, showed signs of being forced to back down on the issue of pay and classroom sizes, but he would only do this if the teachers end their strike action, Campbell indicated. So planned industrial action looks set to continue after Monday’s successful march and rally.

The Liberals have carried out brutal neo-liberal policies since they came to power, four and a half years ago. The teachers’ strike and solidarity action by other public sector workers, shows forcefully that working people in BC have had enough. This should be the start of a general fight-back against the Liberals and big business, both on the industrial and the political planes.

NDP social democrats are no alternative

However the opposition social democratic New Democratic Party (NDP) is not a vehicle for successful working class struggles. NDP leaders supported last week’s decision by the BC Supreme Court to seize teachers’ union assets.

The union tops are tied to the right wing NDP leadership, thereby hampering workers’ struggles.

Workers in British Colombia, and throughout Canada, needs fighting, independent unions and a political party which truly represents their class interests – fighting for decent pay and working conditions and a fully funded welfare system. This requires adopting a bold, socialist programme, and fighting for a socialist society where working people’s needs are put first, not those of big business. This week’s magnificent show of workers’ power in BC can be springboard to achieving these goals.

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October 2005