general strike blues

after work yesterday, i took a stroll down to the trade and convention centre (which houses the liberal cabinet offices) and took part in a support demonstration for the bc teachers on strike. for those of you not up on bc politics – the union has been in negotiations for a new contract for over a year, and rather than negotiate, the provincial government decided to legislate their strike rights as illegal and impose a contract with a 0% wage increase for two years (they were legislated a 3-year 0% contract during their last round of negotiations). this is the same action the bc liberal government took against striking hospital employees in 2004 that lead the labour movement to the brink of a general strike.

the question remains whether we will go there again. certainly at the demo yesterday (which was several thousand strong, and included representatives from all the major labour unions in the province), the general strike chant could be heard at every available opportunity, though labour leaders are even more reticent this time to open their mouths to the topic than they were during the last major bout of class struggle just over a year ago. but the fact remains that as of tomorrow, the teacher’s union will start accruing fines (they will likely be fined for every day of the “illegal” walk-out in the same way the hospital employees union was), and without the tangible support of other unions, they will be forced back to work.

so what of a general strike? i honestly believe (as a good revolutionary and unionist) that the only way to make this government blink is through the general strike mechanism. because of the government’s ability legislate our actions illegal at every turn, they leave only one avenue open to show our displeasure with the way the government is treating public sector workers. if the past 6 years of labour “negotiations” in this province has shown us anything, it is that “playing nice” is something we just can’t afford to do anymore. we have one straightforward strength in our corner – which is the ability to withdraw our labour and our services, collectively, in support of a stronger public sector overall, and the teachers in particular.

is it easy to pull off? not at all – a general strike requires participation, motivation, and mobilization efforts – and puts every union equally at legal risk across the province. but let’s face it – we are 38% of the province’s workforce (those of us in unions) performing many of the most central services in our communities and making up the core of the province’s industrial base. even a one or two day walkout costs the economy in the millions of dollars – and more than that, it demonstrates that the citizentry has lost faith in the ability of the party to govern in a manner consistent with their social values.

having said all of that, i’m not so hopeful we will get the general strike we so desperately need, if only because the labour movement leadership is afraid of losing much more than it will gain. this is a real risk, but one that must be weighed agains the losses to date taken by unions across this province. there is more public support than expected for an “illegal” strike (67% of people strongly favour the teachers in this dispute), and despite the education minister’s claims to the contrary, the teachers are righteous in their militancy. this is indeed a moment for seizing, if we can agree to act together and push this government back. if we don’t, our losses as a movement into the future will be monumental.

“there is a big difference between breaking the law – and defying legislation designed to break you. we will not be broken.”….. jinny simms, bctf president

solidarity to that!

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