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