The British Columbia teachers' strike is much larger than it appears on the surface. The issues appear to be teacher wages and benefits, and classroom size and composition. These are important. Everyone deserves a fair wage for the services they offer, and our schools do need to provide the best learning environment possible for our students. The fundamental issue, however, runs much deeper. It does not only impact teachers, students and parents, it impacts all of us in a very profound way.
The Supreme Court of British Columbia has twice ruled that the government of BC violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms by stripping class size and composition from the collective agreement of BC teachers, and further states that they did not negotiate with teachers in good faith. These are heavy charges, and the government is certainly within its right to appeal these rulings. That is an essential part of the democratic system that we have in place in Canada. Our democracy is based on a system of checks and balances, and the judicial system plays a vital role that must be respected.
At the same time, the government of BC is now pressuring teachers to sign a contract which includes a clause that would allow the government to ignore the outcome of the current court case, should the outcome be in the teachers' favour (which is highly likely). In other words, they are pressuring teachers to sign a contract that would give them what has been referred to as a "get out of jail free" card. The issue thus is no longer wages and benefits, or class size and composition, it is the preservation of the democratic system itself.
Historically, when governments turn democracies into dictatorships they gradually replace unions, suspend any type of charter of citizens' rights that exists, and take control of the judiciary. This is why teachers in British Columbia are taking such a strong stand. We study history, we teach our students about the sacrifices that have been made, how sacred our democratic rights are, and how important it is for all citizens to show gratitude by speaking out on issues of conscience. If we are going to teach this, we need to have the integrity to live it. Teachers have demonstrated a great deal of integrity by already sacrificing an average of well over $5,000 in wages. They are resolved to stand strong and are extremely grateful for all of the public support they are receiving.
Martin Niemoeller was a Protestant minister in Germany at the time of the Nazis. His words ring true in our efforts to stand strong in preserving the rights of all:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.
Continue to speak out, continue to stand for democracy, and all will be well.