We Need a Union Capable of Fighting and Winning in the Court of Public Opinion: Why I’m Once Again Running For MTA President – Part 4

By Robert Green,

Thus far in this series I have outlined two of the reasons I am once again running for the position of MTA president. In the first post I outlined my belief that the MTA needs to change its institutional culture to be more open to participation by the membership and less partisan. The second post explains why I believe the MTA needs to be more respectful of its own rules; particularly those rules associated with financial transparency. The third post looks at some of the ways we could improve our health insurance and asks members to consider whether the $300,000 QPAT removes from the plan annually is not a back-door fee increase.

austerityAnother important reason I’m once again running for MTA president is that I believe our union leadership needs to do much more to speak out in defense of public education and the integrity of the teaching profession. An effective media strategy can be a powerful means of creating pressure on the employer that can translate into real gains for our members and for public education.

Yet our current leadership seems utterly uninterested in engaging issues in the public sphere.

This was exemplified with the arrival of the Charter of Values as the central issue of public debate in Quebec. Given that this proposed legislation had such direct and severe consequences for teachers, I expected our unions to speak out. Here was an opportunity for the newly elected Mr. Sutherland to show that he could stand up for teachers and defend us in the public sphere. Sadly, unions representing teachers in English school boards were the last in Quebec to weigh in on the issue.

Because of the inaction of our unions on the Charter I wrote to QPAT president Richard Goldfinch suggesting that a rally be held during the QPAT convention. He agreed.

Just prior to the convention the MTA sent out an email with extraordinarily unclear instructions. In the absence of any map illustrating the rally’s exact location, I spent a half hour wandering around trying to figure out what “Behind the Palais des Congrès” meant before I finally found the rally a block away from the Palais.

That morning, Sutherland was heard asking members at the convention if they intended to attend “Rob Green’s demonstration”. Here was an opportunity to actually do something for his members but once again he couldn’t resist reacting in a way that was both partisan and petty. In so doing he helped ensure very few members would attend. His efforts being matched only by QPAT whose leaders neglected to invite any media. Either by intention or incompetence, this event had exactly zero impact. While Sutherland may have found this amusing, the teachers at my school who were at risk of losing their jobs if Bill 60 passed did not.

In the end I feel extremely confident in stating that the teachers of Westmount High did more in their volunteer hours to influence the public debate on Bill 60 than the leadership of either the MTA or QPAT. Given that the leaders of these organizations are paid quite handsomely to be the political voice of teachers, this fact should be something of an embarrassment. We need a union leadership that will stand up for teachers when important issues like the charter come along.

Having a union leadership that is capable of fighting and winning in the court of public opinion will be particularly important given the upcoming negotiations.

The Couillard government has been extremely clear about the fact that it intends to achieve its extreme deficit reduction goals with cuts to social spending. Rather than rolling back the $10 billion in tax-cuts enjoyed by corporations, banks and the rich between 2000 and 2008, he wants to balance the books on the backs of teachers, nurses, day-care workers and the society’s most needy.

This in a context where Quebec’s teachers are already the lowest paid in Canada, having seen our real wages eroded by 10.5% in the twelve years prior to our last contract. Our wages haven’t even kept pace with average wage increases in the private sector.

The politics of austerity need to be exposed not only for its dire consequences for public services, but also for its repeated failure to achieve its stated goal of deficit reduction. Austerity kills growth and when the economy isn’t growing government debt gets worse not better. The world learned this lesson during the great depression. Sadly if there isn’t a serious public push-back against government austerity we in Quebec will find ourselves having to learn this all over again.

But this is not just about the next collective agreement. Its about a union leadership willing to speak up on a range of issues that matter to teachers. Over the past several years I’ve been published in the Montreal Gazette, the journal Our Schools / Ourselves and elsewhere on a number of such issues including: the evidence against standardized testing; the growing pressures on teachers to inflate grades; the promised class size reductions that never materialized; the over-representation of special needs students caused by public subsidies for private school.

I was also extremely proud to be a driving force in Westmount High’s opposition to the proposed charter of values. My opinion piece ‘Pauline Marois is ignoring lessons she herself wanted taught‘ garnered a great deal of attention. Our viral video ‘A Lesson in Values for Madame Marois‘ even threw the PQ into damage-control mode in the midst of their election campaign, prompting Gilles Duceppe to write two columns on the video and causing Marois herself to have to explain to reporters that she was not against human rights.

As much as I absolutely love my job as a teacher, I feel that with my skills as a communicator and passion for public education I could affect real change as union president. This is why I feel a certain obligation to continue to have my hat in the ring for the MTA presidency. Call me naive but I sincerely believe that I could build the kind of union that can make a real difference in the lives of teachers!

To learn more about my candidacy check my campaign website  http://rgreen.freeshell.org. If the program I am proposing looks like the kind of change you would like to see in your union please help spread the word by talking to your colleagues, printing articles to leave in your staff room or sharing articles on social media. Most importantly be sure to vote on Wednesday May 21st. Change cannot happen on its own. We the members need to make it happen!

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