Posts tagged ‘Labour movement’

January 7, 2016

Discussing the details of the Common Front salary deal for Quebec’s public sector workers

Robert Green discusses the details of the Common Front salary deal with CKUT’s Dan Parker and Stefan Christoff:

Click here to download

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September 21, 2015

Is striking an effective tactic for Quebec’s teachers?

“Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
–  Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity

By Robert Green

There is no question that the teachers of Quebec are angry. Already the lowest paid teachers in Canada, the government’s current salary offer would see Quebec teachers falling even further behind with their inflation-adjusted salaries decreasing by about 7% over 5 years. Of even greater concern is the fact that government is proposing to rid our contract of nearly every clause that protects our working conditions and the learning conditions of our students, from limits on class size to a range of supports for students with special needs.

It is an understatement to suggest that the teachers of Quebec want actions that will pressure government to back away from its most regressive proposals. Most teachers are ready to make personal sacrifices in pursuit of that goal. The question for Quebec’s teachers is: what sort of action will actually be effective in achieving this goal?

A grassroots push to work-to-rule

Last spring the members of the Montreal Teachers Association passed a motion in their annual general meeting stating that the action the members wanted to pursue was a work-to-rule campaign. The sentiment expressed by many MTA members was that the large number of unpaid hours worked by Quebec’s teachers was an enormous source of power. Given that teachers are not paid for enough hours to adequately do their job, withdrawing the volunteer labour done by teachers was seen by many as an effective way to create pressure within the system while avoiding the spectre of back-to-work legislation. Working to rule may not be as effective for other public sector unions but there was a strong sentiment that teachers were in a unique position to create real pressure with this tactic. There was also a feeling expressed that it would be far easier to build and maintain public support through a work-to-rule campaign than through a strike action which would create major inconveniences for families.

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March 18, 2015

If Teachers Can’t Make Their Unions More Democratic and Social Justice-Minded, Public Ed Is Doomed

By Bob Peterson | Published Feb. 12, 2015 by In These Times

Excerpt:

Social justice unionism is an organizing model that calls for a radical boost in internal union democracy and increased member participation. This contrasts to a business model that is so dependent on staff providing services that it disempowers members and concentrates power in the hands of a small group of elected leaders and/or paid staff. An organizing model, while still providing services to members, focuses on building union power at the school level in alliance with parents, community groups, and other social movements.

Three components of social justice unionism are like the legs of a stool. Unions need all three to be balanced and strong:

  • We organize around bread and butter issues.
  • We organize around teaching and learning issues to reclaim our profession and our classrooms.
  • We organize for social justice in our community and in our curriculum.

Unfortunately, few public sector unions in Wisconsin adopted this model of unionism. As long as we had an agency shop and could protect our members’ compensation and benefits, most members were happy.

We are now paying the price for defining our unions as contract bargainers and enforcers. Today, when we try to sign up members, many are aware that our collective bargaining rights have been severely limited. Often they respond, “Why should I join?” Others think we don’t even exist, as our identity has been so tightly woven to the contract.

Read more: http://inthesetimes.com/working/entry/17632/democratic_teachers_unions

February 15, 2015

A Revitalized Teacher Union Movement

By Bob Peterson | Published in Volume 29 No.2 – Winter 2014/2015 of rethinking schools

If we don’t transform teacher unions now, our schools, our profession, and our democracy—what’s left of it—will likely be destroyed. I know. I am from Wisconsin, the home of Scott Walker and Paul Ryan.

In 2011, in the wake of the largest workers uprising in recent U.S. history, I was elected president of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association (MTEA). Unfortunately, that spring uprising, although massive and inspirational, was not strong enough to stop Gov. Walker from enacting the most draconian anti-public sector labor law in the nation.

That law, known as Act 10, received support from the Koch brothers and a cabal of national right-wing funders and organizations. It was imposed on all public sector workers except the police and firefighter unions that endorsed Walker and whose members are predominantly white and male.

Act 10 took away virtually all collective bargaining rights, including the right to arbitration. It left intact only the right to bargain base-wage increases up to the cost of living. The new law prohibited “agency shops,” in which all employees of a bargaining unit pay union dues. It also prohibited payroll deduction of dues. It imposed an unprecedented annual recertification requirement on public sector unions, requiring a 51 percent (not 50 percent plus one) vote of all eligible employees, counting anyone who does not vote as a “no.” Using those criteria, Walker would never have been elected.

Immediately following Act 10, Walker and the Republican-dominated state legislature made the largest cuts to public education of any state in the nation and gerrymandered state legislative districts to privilege conservative, white-populated areas of the state.

Having decimated labor law and defunded public education, Walker proceeded to expand statewide the private school voucher program that has wreaked havoc on Milwaukee, and enacted one of the nation’s most generous income tax deductions for private school tuition.

Under these conditions, public sector union membership has plummeted, staff has been reduced, and resources to lobby, organize, and influence elections have shrunk.

People familiar with Wisconsin’s progressive history—in 1959, for example, we were the first state to legalize collective bargaining for public sector workers—find these events startling. And they should. If it happened in Wisconsin, it could happen anywhere.

And it has. In New Orleans, following Katrina, unionized teachers were fired and the entire system charterized. Following Wisconsin’s lead, Tennessee abolished the right for teachers to bargain collectively. In Philadelphia, the School Reform Commission unilaterally canceled its expired contract with the teacher union. In city after city, privately run charter schools are dominating the education landscape.

Fortunately, teacher union activists across the country are revitalizing their unions and standing up to these relentless attacks. And this growing transformation of the teachers’ union movement may well be the most important force in our nation to defend and improve public schools and, in so doing, defend and improve our communities and what’s left of our democratic institutions.

The revitalization builds on the strengths of traditional “bread and butter” unionism. But it recognizes that our future depends on redefining unionism from a narrow trade union model, focused almost exclusively on protecting union members, to a broader vision that sees the future of unionized workers tied directly to the interests of the entire working class and the communities, particularly communities of color, in which we live and work.

This is a sea change for teacher unions (and other unions, too). But it’s not an easy one to make. It requires confronting racist attitudes and past practices that have marginalized people of color both inside and outside unions. It also means overcoming old habits and stagnant organizational structures that weigh down efforts to expand internal democracy and member engagement.

Read more: http://www.rethinkingschools.org/archive/29_02/29-2_peterson.shtml

September 6, 2014

Hey, premiers, leave them teachers alone!

By Robert Green | Published Sept 1 2014 by Ricochet

The beginning of the school year should be a time of great optimism and excitement for teachers. We’re energized by seeing our colleagues again and excited to meet the students we’ll be teaching for the year. Our thoughts should be focused on making our classrooms more welcoming, our lessons more engaging and our contributions to our school community more meaningful.

Unfortunately, for too many teachers across Canada the positive feelings that normally accompany the beginning of the school year will be overshadowed by more negative sentiments: uncertainty, frustration, anger and above all the feeling of being profoundly disrespected.

British Columbia

Nowhere is this more true than in BC. The province’s teachers have been on the picket line since the spring as part of the latest chapter in an exasperating decades-long struggle with the province’s Liberal government. The bad faith demonstrated by the government over the course of this struggle boggles the mind. While the media wants to malign BC teachers as greedy, the heart of this dispute has always been about protecting quality of education for students by reducing class size. After teachers gave up salary concessions in the nineties in order to win class-size reductions (greedy bastards!) the BC Liberals went on to unilaterally remove these provisions from their contract in 2002.

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August 11, 2014

The Hypocricy of Austerity

By Robert Green | Published August 9, 2014 by Ricochet

In a move that seems perfectly symbolic of the sort of politics his government represents, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard announced this week that the five members of the government commission charged with reviewing government programs and recommending where to make cuts will be paid the tidy sum of $1.03 million for about eight months of work. Commission President and ex-Liberal cabinet minister Lucienne Robillard will take home $265,000 for explaining to average Quebecers where they must make sacrifices.

The message being sent here is unmistakable: Tough choices, sacrifice and austerity are for the common people, not Quebec’s elites.

rich_get_richerThough his government has been in power only a short time, this is not the first time it has sent such a message. The government’s first budget contained cuts to school boards that are likely to seriously affect the services provided by already underfunded public schools, while leaving the subsidies wealthy families receive to send their children to private schools untouched. Apparently it is for the children of Little Burgundy to shoulder the burden of repairing Quebec’s public finances, not the privileged children who live up the hill in Westmount.

In fact this message is nothing new. From the PQ’s “deficit zero” politics of the late nineties to the Charest government’s attempts to “re-engineer the state” in the 2000s, Quebec’s political leaders have for years been saying that average Quebecers need to make do with less, that government spending is “out of control” and that we as a society are “living beyond our means.”

In 2010, Finance Minister Raymond Bachand called for a “cultural revolution” of austerity. This revolution led directly to the longest student strike in Canadian history and the defeat of Bachand’s government. Now back from exile, and sporting a new leader, the Liberals are set for round 2.

However, a cursory examination of Quebec’s recent spending trends shows a very different picture. With the exception of a spike in stimulus spending following the 2008 economic downturn, Quebec’s expenditures as a percentage of GDP have been trending downward since the early nineties. Even at the height of stimulus spending in 2009-2010 Quebec was spending significantly less as a percentage of GDP than it was in the early nineties. This is hardly a picture of out-of-control spending.

So if spending is not the cause of our current economic predicament, what is? The answer lies on the other side of the balance sheet, in revenues rather than expenditures.

read more »

July 2, 2014

British Columbia teachers’ strike – Let’s keep our eyes on the prize

By Tara Ehrcke | Published June 28 by rankandfile.ca

Two weeks into a full scale strike and teachers in BC are holding the line. In fact, the resolve at the pickets is stronger than ever. Teachers know that after 12 years, we cannot return to a contract that doesn’t address class size and class composition–meaning also teachers’ working conditions.

Teachers are also increasingly frustrated with the blatant hypocrisy of the government.

Since the strike was announced two weeks ago, the government has continued to prevaricate and frustrate. First, it went to the Labour Relations Board to have the marking of Grade 12 exams deemed an essential service. It was successful with this application. Secondary teachers are required to try and produce marks despite the disruption caused by the lockout and strike. Many teachers are angered that they did not have sufficient time to properly mark and assess student work.

Next, the government went back to the LRB to seek a declaration that grade 10 and 11 marks are essential. What they got was an order that school administrators would produce these marks and teachers would have 48 hours to “verify” them. In some districts, only the marks from the pre-strike term will be used. In others, term marks were averaged. And in one district, marks were “bumped up” to the next grade level for certain grade ranges. So, for example, any student with a 40 – 49% would receive a 50% passing grade. The government also announced that the English 10 and Social Studies 11 provincial exams would be modified to remove most of the written answers. This was done to appease the administrators who have been called in to mark the exams in place of striking teachers. Secondary teachers were rightly angered at a government that made such a mockery of assessing student performance and would hence undermine the credibility of our education system.

Read more:http://rankandfile.ca/2014/06/28/bc-teachers-keep-your-eyes-on-the-prize/

June 17, 2014

Support B.C. teachers’ battle against unlawful education cuts

June 9, 2014

BC Teachers’ Strike – Teachers’ working conditions are students learning conditions!

On June 9th and 10th BC Teachers are voting for all out strike as the government continues to negotiate.

Published June 6, 2014 by SocialistAlternative.ca

The Liberal government of British Columbia continues its long attack on public education and teachers. Yet again the government refuses to seriously negotiate with the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF), refuses to address the real needs of children and escalates the dispute with the union.

After provoking disputes in schools for over a decade the government said it wanted peace in the class room with the preposterous proposal of a 10 year contract, while at the same time refusing to negotiate on the many real class room problems. Now teachers, whose contracts expired in June 2013, are involved in strike action with teachers on strike one day a week in each school district of the province.

After 14 months of failed negotiations the BCTF conducted a membership ballot in March 2014 for industrial action. The result was overwhelming with 89% of the votes in favour of action – over 75% of all teachers voted yes. Meanwhile, the BC liberals were re-elected in 2013 with only 44% of the vote on a 58% turnout!

As the BC government still did not move, on April 22nd the BCTF started a province wide work-to-rule job action (non-participation in most meetings or communication with school administrators and no extra-curricular volunteering for more than an hour before or after school). This had little or no impact on students, the main impact was on the administration.

On May 15th Education Minister Peter Fassbender said the government would be stepping away from its demand that the BC Federation of Teachers (BCTF) sign a 10-year term contract and offered a $1,200 signing bonus. However, the following day he threatened to roll back teachers’ wages 5%.

The BCTF responded with announcing escalated job action in the form of province-wide rotating strikes. On May 21st government negotiators countered with a partial lock-out and a 10% wage reduction. Since May 26th the lockout has barred teachers from working more than 45 minutes prior to class time, during recess and lunch hour and beyond 45 minutes after school.

Read more: http://socialistalternative.ca/posts/1044

February 26, 2014

Stalled negotiations driving teacher strike vote in BC

By Katie Hyslop | Published February 25, 2014 by The Hook

The province’s 40,000 plus public teachers will take a strike vote on March 4 to 6 after over a year of negotiations with government that have gone nowhere.

In a press conference held at the BC Teachers’ Federation Vancouver headquarters this morning, President Jim Iker said negotiations with the BC Public School Employers Association (BCPSEA) went downhill last summer when government removed BCPSEA’s board and replaced it with Peter Cameron as director and negotiator.

“Up until this point, the 10-year deal was only a media sound bite,” Iker said, recalling Premier Christy Clark and Education Minister Peter Fassbender’s vocal support for a 10-year negotiated contract with teachers.

That summer the union held a membership vote on the prospect of a 10-year deal, and 96 per cent of teachers voted against it. But that fall the government tabled a 10-year deal anyway.

“Since the fall, Christy Clark’s government, through their appointed leaders at BCPSEA, is again trying to strip teachers working conditions and freeze wages,” said Iker.

“They propose nothing that teachers can agree to: not a single incentive for any deal, never mind a longer term deal. Every meeting we’ve had since December has seen the parties drive further and further apart as the government goes after unreasonable concessions.”

Read more: http://thetyee.ca/Blogs/TheHook/2014/02/25/Stalled-negotiations-driving-teacher-strike-vote-union/#sthash.qxsELaOV.dpuf

February 7, 2014

Teachers in Oregon Vote to Strike for ‘Better Learning Conditions’

By Jacob Chamberlain | Published February 6, 2014 by Common Dreams

Teachers, parents, and students rally in Portland to support teachers union, improving classrooms

In an ongoing battle for student and teachers’ rights in Portland, Oregon’s public school system, nearly 3,000 teachers voted Wednesday night with an overwhelming majority to authorize a strike starting February 20th if school officials don’t meet their demands to improve education.

Among those demands, the teachers are calling for Portland Public Schools to hire more teachers in order to allow smaller class sizes. The teachers are also calling for a curriculum that “does not force teachers to teach to the test” and an increase in teacher pay that “provides fair compensation after years of sacrifice,” according to the Portland Association of Teachers.

“No teacher ever wants to go on strike, we want to be in classrooms with our students,” explained PAT president Gwen Sullivan. “But Portland teachers are united and resolved to stand up for our students’ learning conditions. It’s time to move this to a conclusion so that we can have a contract that is fair for teachers and good for students.”

Emphasizing the fact that the strike is over more than just teacher pay, Mark Wilson, a teacher at Rosa Parks Elementary in North Portland stated, “I wouldn’t strike if this were over a percentage point over salary. €œIt’€™s about class sizes.”

Ahead of Wednesday’s vote, parents, community members and students rallied outside the venue in support of the teachers.

Read more: https://www.commondreams.org/headline/2014/02/06-2

January 30, 2014

Fallout from BCTF ruling is staggering

By Les Leyne | Published January 29, 2014 by The Times Colonist

The political aspect to this week’s Supreme Court decision on the B.C. Teachers Federation case is pretty clear.

It’s one of the most severe findings a court has issued about government conduct in years. The B.C. Liberals have been thrown for a big loss on the education front.

Justice Susan Griffin declared the government deliberately tried to secretly provoke a strike by the BCTF in 2012 to create a political advantage.

Low-grade BCTF job action that year was frustrating everyone. The government wanted to bring it to an end, by forcing the union’s hand. When the full school shutdown that the B.C. Liberals wanted didn’t happen, they increased the pressure on the union “so as to provoke a strike.” Why?

The judge said it was because it was so important to the government strategy, which was to win support for imposing legislation on teachers who were withdrawing some services on a kind of work-to-rule campaign.

There are no rhetorical denunciations in the judgment. The findings speak for themselves.

She ordered the government to pay the union $2 million for bad faith. Trust me, it got off easy.

It’s the practical effect of the decision that’s not yet clear. It appears to send the education system back to 2002, when class-size limits and strict formulas for teacher-librarians, specialists and requirements about class composition were all in the contract.

Read more: http://www.timescolonist.com/opinion/les-leyne-fallout-from-bctf-ruling-is-staggering-1.805566

January 22, 2014

Une Charte anti-syndicale

Par Sébastien Robert | Jan 20, 2014 La Presse

Le projet de loi 60 qui est actuellement à l’étude à l’Assemblée nationale soulève les passions à travers le Québec. Le débat a plusieurs facettes, mais l’aspect juridique de celui-ci tourne autour de la constitutionnalité de l’interdiction du port de signes religieux ostentatoires. Je ne suis pas avocat, je fais donc confiance au Barreau du Québec quand il dit que cette interdiction serait contraire aux chartes des droits et libertés.

Par contre, comme syndicaliste, je vois surtout les problèmes concrets d’application du projet de loi 60 et le débat juridique que les syndicats n’auront pas le choix de mener à cause de leur devoir, prévu au Code du travail, de défendre les droits de chacun de leurs membres.

Aussi, je semble être le seul à voir, dans ce projet de loi 60, une loi spéciale qui remet en question la liberté des travailleurs du secteur public de s’associer pour négocier des conditions de travail. Les syndicats du secteur public ont négocié des conventions collectives en 2011. Ces contrats de travail, signés par les syndicats et le gouvernement, sont valides jusqu’au 31 mars 2015.

Read more: http://www.lapresse.ca/debats/votre-opinion/201401/20/01-4730625-une-charte-anti-syndicale.php

November 16, 2013

QPAT Convention 2013: Coping Strategies When What Teachers Need is Change

Should conventions held by teachers unions include workshops aimed at politicizing and empowering its membership or should they merely offer tips and techniques to use in the classroom? How one answers this question reveals a great deal about how one sees the nature of teachers unions themselves.

Following a historic victory of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) last year, union President Karen Lewis explained this victory as the product of a change in union leadership that brought with it a change in the philosophy of how the union should be run. She described this philosophical shift as moving from a “service model” to an “organizing model”. This involved making structural changes to the union itself so that it could be more effective at educating and empowering members:

…we purposely tried to change the culture of union so that the union is about education, is about empowering teachers … And as a result, the union officers took pay cuts, significant pay cuts, so that we can have an organizing department, so that we can have a research department, so that we didn’t do the union the way the old union was done, because those days are over…

The unity achieved by the CTU educating and empowering its grassroots members transformed the CTU from an organization incapable of fending off the various attacks against the working conditions of its members into a fighting organization capable of not only defending their members but actually making gains on their behalf.

While paying lip service to the historic victory of Chicago teachers in a recent issue of QPAT’s newsletter Liaison, QPAT itself could not be further from the organizing model that was responsible for this victory: their democratic structures could not be more opaque or inaccessible to the grassroots members; their approach to negotiation seems more intent on telling members what to think and how to vote than on empowering members and encouraging real debate; they see no problem paying their president and certain members of their permanent staff salaries and perks that far exceed those received by the highest paid teachers. 

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November 8, 2013

We need a war on poverty, not teachers

The right loves to demonize unions, but economic factors are much more important to success in the classroom

By | Published Nov 7, 2013 by salon.com

Excerpt:

Similarly, we know that many of the high-performing public schools in America’s wealthy locales are unionized. We also know that one of the best school systems in the world — Finland’s — is fully unionized. These facts prove that teachers unions are not the root cause of the education problem, either. After all, if unions were the problem, then unionized public schools in wealthy areas and Finland would be failing.

So what is the problem? That brings us to the new study from the Southern Education Foundation. Cross-referencing education data, researchers found that a majority of all public school students in one-third of America’s states now come from low-income families.

How much does this have to do with educational outcomes? A lot. Social science research over the last few decades has shown that two-thirds of student achievement is a product of out-of-school factors — and among the most powerful of those is economic status. That’s hardly shocking: Kids who experience destitution and all the problems that come with it have enough trouble just surviving, much less succeeding in school.

All of this leads to an obvious conclusion: If America were serious about fixing the troubled parts of its education system, then we would be having a fundamentally different conversation.

Read more: http://www.salon.com/2013/11/07/we_need_a_war_on_poverty_not_teachers/