Split Decision

By a margin of 4540 to 4487, members of the Telecommunications Workers Union have voted to reject the October 10 tentative agreement between their union and their employer, Telus.

About seven years ago, this page was on a bargaining committee for a Union local that had a policy of not releasing the vote totals for ratification votes beyond pass/fail. I lobbied at every turn to change that policy, as I felt it was undemocratic and did nothing to build credibility with our membership and the public. Eventually, I gave up and resigned from the Local executive, but to this day I contend that having the overwhelming majority of your members reject a TA sent a clear message to the employer.

However, having 53 members reject a TA...could be a lot of things. There are always members in any Local who believe the TA will pass so they vote no on principle, just as there are always members who don't completely grasp the concept of Collective Bargaining, and vote no to cast blame on their Bargaining Committee for coming up short. This traditional 'spiking' of the vote actually cut the tree down in this case, and was made much easier by the fact it took TWU 18 days to execute the ratification vote - and this is a union in the communications industry?

This page isn't out to be overly critical of TWU's leadership - TWU President Bruce Bell was clear all along that the vote would be extremely close. However, this page contends that much of the problem that Telus workers have had in securing a collective agreement over the past five years is the fallout from the forced merger between TWU and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), who, up until losing a run-off vote to TWU, represented Telus workers in Alberta. Just as Telus were treated like alien invaders when they arrived at BC Tel headquarters in Burnaby, so was TWU when they showed up at Telus' offices in Calgary.

How great was TWU's awareness of the differing labour relations climate in Alberta from their home base in British Columbia? In Alberta, Unions have to do as much of a sell to their existing members as they do to potential members - they go along out of enlightened self-interest, not because their Local President says so. I also question how much TWU realized that they were in a de facto first contract situation rather than another round of negotiations with BC Tel.

Hindsight being 20-20, this page also wonders if labour federations and the CLC guessed wrong in making the service and retail sectors the major organizing priority for Canada's labour movement. Because of unions tilting at the Wal-Mart windmill, the opportunity to make substantial inroads in the technology sector, particularly after the dot-com bust, may have been lost for a generation. Establishing a stronger union culture in the technology sector would have meant substantial dues revenue to organize on multiple fronts, and would more than likely have pushed TWU's margin of error well beyond those 53 votes.


Na na na na...Na na na na...Hey hey.....

The Chicago White Sox squeaked by the Houston Astros 1 - 0 last night to claim their first World Series title since 1917. As a Seattle Mariners fan, this page may not have been as ecstatic as his Southside Chicago friends, but I greatly enjoyed the strong pitching of former Mariner Freddy Garcia, the unorthodox managing of Ozzie Guillen, and most of all, the sulking Pappy Bush sitting in the front row at Houston's Minute Maid park. Kiss it better, Bar...

Jermaine Dye was chosen as the series MVP. Dye's biggest contribution to the White Sox victory may not have been last night's game winning RBI, but rather pretending to be hit by a pitch during game 2, loading the bases and setting up Paul Konerko's grand slam home run. Among a dugout full of controversial plays this postseason, replays showed the pitch hit the handle of Dye's bat, not his hand, and once again, the debate rages as to whether or not replays should be used to pass judgment.

This page is definitely in favour. Any time a Gordon Campbell says he doesn't believe in ripping up collective agreements, we should be able to go to the videotape when he's playing with the shredder. Whenever a Paul Martin says Liberals will protect public health care while private clinics open their doors across Canada, that footage would certainly come in handy. As for Major League Baseball, it would be best to leave the umpires alone. Phil Garner may have bitched repeatedly about the size of the strike zone, but at least Astros pitchers got a better chance to throw a strike than Jinny Sims and the BC Teachers Federation did.

Anyway, a lot of pride in Chicago today.


The House Always Wins

In a few hours, the largest lottery jackpot in Canada's history could be handed to me...or someone else.

The truth is, I don't really play the lottery to win. It's not like anyone can try harder or practice at it. What I'm really paying for when I buy a lottery ticket is the few fleeting hours of fantasy about actually winning. After visualing the rewarding of my friends, the endowment of those causes I most strongly believe in, and the facewashing of my enemies, I'm pretty much done until the next big jackpot. In fact, given the ongoing concerns about this page's heart condition, it's not like winning may be the best thing for me either: I'd probably have only a few seconds to enjoy the spoils before my left arm starts to go numb.

In addition to my well-heeled daydreams, I would be dreadfully remiss if I forgot to relish the irony of thousands of Canadians, who, on any other day bitch, whine, and complain about their tax dollars being spent on such unnecessary government frills as public education and health care, lining up at the lottery counter on the day of the big draw, to voluntarily hand their money over to the state with little or no hope of getting it back.


I need Caller ID

A few weeks ago, I received a phone call from Vision Vancouver, asking if I would continue to support them in civic elections on November 19. This page was somewhat taken aback, the caller assumed that I had followed Jim Green, Tim Stevenson, and Raymond Louie in tearing up my COPE membership. Unfortunately for the caller, I'm still one of the "militant radicals" (like Tim Louis, Fred Bass, or Ann Roberts) who Friends of Larry Campbell can't seem to work with, so I hung up on her.

Last week, I received another phone call, this time from COPE/Vision Vancouver: that's right COPE - SLASH - VISION. It appears that with Senator DaVinci out of the picture, both camps are learning to get along in keeping the NPA from rearing it's ugly right-wing head. Not only has COPE refrained from running a candidate for Mayor, Vision isn't running candidates for the School or Parks Boards. Both parties are fielding only five candidates each for Vancouver's 10 Council seats.

It's almost as if everyone was acting in some kind of a coalition....like a coalition of Progressive Electors...The caller went on to ask me if I wanted to make a donation, volunteer, or take a window sign. If I can find out exactly who I'd be supporting, I just might be interested.


What's done is done.

By a margin of 77%, BC teachers voted yesterday to accept mediator Vince Ready's recommendation and return to their classrooms today. To those parents who supported the BCTF, I am sure that teachers across BC appreciate your patience and support.

To those parents who bitched and moaned like their kids were the only ones being inconvenienced, especially the ones who lined up to get on camera so they could parrot the Lieberal bullsh*t about "respecting the law" and "setting a good example", here's a news flash: Even before last week's settlement, the average teacher in BC probably made enough money to purchase a television, and more than likely caught your bitchy little act at 6:00 or 11:00. When the next parent-teacher interviews roll around, here's hoping a waste of skin like you gets exactly what you deserve.

Tomorrow: This page moves on to discussing Vancouver's November 19 elections.


Dazed and Confused

The past 24 hours in the Teachers Dispute has left this page scratching my head to the point of a band-aid covered scalp. It's one thing when the media projects an end to the strike, it's another when the President of the BC Federation of Labour tries to stage manage a happy ending without consulting the union involved. All Jim Sinclair needed to say was that the Fed reserves the right to further action, not that anybody was standing down or whether or not an action was appropriate. Those comments Thursday afternoon greatly disappointed the membership of the Fed's largest affiliate, and may have created a split in the labour movement in BC.

Also in the 'gutless' file (unless Global TV's Keith Baldrey's yanking our collective chain) I have to put the anonymous NDP MLA who told Baldrey that it was "presumptuous" for the BCTF to insist on amendments to the School Act with respect to class sizes. No, there might not be a Social Studies teacher on the BCTF Executive to explain how a legislative calendar works, but it would help if the NDP were pushing for the same legislation, rather than tut-tutting the BCTF because they want a commitment on the legislation in writing.

I attended this morning's rally at the Pacific Coliseum. As I expected, it made negligible impact, except to provide visuals of a triumphant Jinny Sims in front of a cheering crowd, which is probably the closest teachers are going to look like winners in this thing. I am too tired and feeling a little too sold out at this point to do the forensics on why this dispute was shoved to a resolution this weekend, but once the dust settles after the vote, I'll endeavour to put a crackpot theory or two forward for the readers of this page to enjoy.

To the teachers who were sitting behind me at the Coliseum: A class war is not a schoolroom riot, the term 'brothers and sisters' does not make us a cult, and people usually don't start filing out during 'Solidarity Forever'. We got your back, but understand, this is the way we roll.

For those of you scoring at home, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation had booked the lawn of the Vancouver Art Gallery today (where I said yesterday should have been the site of today's rally).


Damn it Barry, take it outside.

With facilitated talks already breaking down between the government and the BCTF, CUPE BC members in the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley are set to walk off the job tomorrow. This page is a proud CUPE BC member, but unfortunately, finds a lot to question about this particular show of support for teachers. Showing support for teachers is not the question here, but rather, the strategy (or lack thereof) in showing that support.

Monday's rally in Victoria came straight to the government's front yard in Victoria and shut down that city's downtown core. Tuesday's rally in Prince George hit the streets and knocked on Education Minister Shirley Bond's door. Tomorrow's rally in Vancouver is at...the Pacific Coliseum. Is it just me, or has the Direct Action theme of the past week unravelled here?

The PNE is a CUPE worksite, and those new seats installed for the World Junior Hockey Championships sure are comfortable, but it is by no means a visible or high-traffic location from which to address the government or the public. Staging a rally outside of downtown only gives the major media outlets (who are all based downtown) a greater excuse to ignore or downplay the event. Any activist who can rub two picket signs together knows there is only one place in Greater Vancouver for a rally to be seen and heard, and this is it.

For all of my union's messaging about being a community-oriented union, this day of protest appears to be more oriented towards comfort and convenience of CUPE members than it is about engaging the community. The PNE rally even has a 10:00 AM start time to accommodate the principals to for a second rally in Surrey at 2:00 PM. Why not double the show of force at a single rally that can't be ignored?

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King once said "The true nature of a people is not found in times of comfort and convenience, but in times of controversy and challenge." Why not stir up some controversy? Why not challenge the community to support teachers instead of rallying away from the community? My hope is that CUPE BC (and the BC Fed) are leaving something bigger (like a General Strike) in the holster just in case, but given the growing impatience from some parents and the bloodlust shown by the Lieberals for crippling penalties at the Supreme Court, just how much time is left to bring out those big guns?


Are the Liberals Ready to listen?

Vince Ready, BC's mediation superstar, has been appointed to facilitate the BCTF teachers dispute with public school employers and the Liberal government.

Right now the clock is ticking towards a major labour shutdown in the Lower Mainland (some CUPE locals are advising their members it could be on Friday). Further penalties at the Supreme Court of BC (also scheduled to come down on Friday) will only escalate the situation to a General Strike. This page says the impending panic (plus polling numbers favouring the BCTF) upgrades Ready from Facilitator to Mediator by the end of the week.

Ready's appointment is good news only if the Liberals have learned from their past mistakes with him, ie. actually following his recommendations. In 2001, Ready mediated a three-month long dispute between CAW bus drivers in Greater Vancouver and Coast Mountain Bus Company/Translink. The Liberals responded by rejecting his mediators report, claiming it was beyond the employers ability to pay. Of course, Translink was able to find money from Victoria for management bonuses and the RAV line. However, three months later, The Fiberals passed back-to-work legislation which was almost identical to Ready's original report.

Is Gordon Campbell's phobia surrounding such terms as "give and take" and "negotiating" going to cheat BC students out of more weeks of school the same way commuters were cheated out of a dozen weeks of transit service?


Quitting Time?

As the countdown to a General Strike in British Columbia continues in Prince George today, many people are asking about public school teachers: "If they hate their jobs so much, why don't they just quit?"

I've heard that from passers by so often at so many picket lines I've been at, it's become like a mantra to me. However, the Sensei will tell you that a good mantra can reveal the path to enlightment. In the case of BCTF, there may be at least a flicker here to settle things with the BCPSEA and the Lieberals.

If teachers aren't getting paid because they're on strike, and they're not getting strike pay because Brenda Brown wants to suck up to Gordon Campbell and follow in Wally Opal's footsteps, why don't teachers just quit? Who's going to stop them? How can teachers be in contempt of court if they're not teachers anymore?

Before you slap a defeatist label on this page, I'm not thinking of one or two teachers here, I'm thinking of each and every BC public school teacher opposed to Bill 12 (which would be expect for the thimble full of scabs crying to the media, all of them). BCNU nurses used this tactic four years ago with considerable success, and if a mass resignation is coupled with pictures of Jinny Sims being lead away in handcuffs, it would be devastating for the Fiberals.

If Gordon Campbell and the Business Council of BC want to wave their nads around and bellow about "not backing down" and "respecting the rule of law", they deserve nothing less than the complete collapse of the public school system in British Columbia, and being forced to pick up the pieces. It's a sad prospect for BC students, but hey, Premier knows best, right?

At that moment, real negotiations with the BCTF wouldn't seem so 'militant' after all...


The Battle of Bill 12: It's on.

I had quite a few opportunities to go by the Legislature over the past three days and see if there was any action going on in the government's bullpen to resolve the teachers dispute. Unfortunately, what I saw was a total absence of anyone coming or going. Office windows were left with the lights on and the curtains open as if to say: "We'll let the BC Supreme Court handle it, thank you very much".

The Liberals should be disappointed with Thursday's ruling, because the ruling doesn't handle it, and any attempt to enforce it will spark a street fight with the BC Federation of Labour. In fact, the Fed is more than capable of picking up the ball and carrying it the rest of the way: Jim Sinclair is already calling for a day of action at the Legislature on Monday. In addition to the continuing support from the BC Fed, the Canadian Teachers Federation was running spots on Victoria radio in support of the BCTF, several hours after the ruling came down in Vancouver.

This is not a fight the Liberals can win. While there are some worthwhile comparisons, this is nothing like the HEU dispute last year, unless Shirley Bond plans to outsource teaching BC kids to Sodexho. The BCTF isn't going anywhere, even if there is a microscopic faction who are crossing picket lines, complaining that the union was planning to pick this fight for a long time.

To the scabs at the front of the classroom, this page gives you a gold-plated "Well, duh!" Faced with overcrowded classrooms, having to buy their own supplies, and no wage increases in what's supposed to be the fastest growing economy in Canada, what choice did teachers have but to join the BC Fed and start acting like a real union? You don't like it? You don't think it's "professional"? If acting in the public interest rubs you such a wrong way, maybe teaching in a public school system isn't right for you.

And Shirley, quit trying to bullsh*t the public that you have a contract with teachers. Bill 12 is a contract ON teachers.


The System Works...

Shout-outs to CMG and TWU for negotiating tentative agreements, and to the BCTF for not backing down about their right to negoitiate an agreement. However, let's not forget that a collective agreement is only a temporary truce in the class struggle.

This page will be dark until Friday at the earliest, as I'll be on Vancouver Island, and out of blogging range. Don't start the General Strike without me.


Offer Refused.

Yesterday, 24 Hours' Erin Airton on the BCTF: "At some point, you'd think they'd get pretty tired of a union that isn't serving their needs and that continually reduces their profession's credibility with parents, students, and the general public."

Ms. Airhead...er...Airton doesn't get that people who are dissatisfied with their union don't give that union a 90.5% strike vote, regardless of the legality of that strike (at press time Bill 12 is still being debated in Victoria). As for credibility with anyone who's not a right-wing tabloid hack, the BCTF has it in spades.


Another offer the BCTF can't refuse

Earlier this week Labour Minister Mike De Jong introduced Bill 12, The Teachers Collective Agreement Act. The legislation calls for a "cooling off" period between teachers and their employers, while establishing an Industrial Inquiry Commission to find out why the last four bargaining disputes in BC's public school system were ended with back-to-work legislation.

First of all, "cooling off" is Liberal-speak for taking away the British Columbia Teachers Federation's right to job action. Gordon Campbell and his teacher-biting mascot Christy Clark thought they had managed to shut teachers up about issues like class sizes when they legislated public education as an Essential Service. However, they didn't realize that according to the Labour Code, 'essential' means matters of life and limb, not having to make up a grade 3 math class in July. After realizing the BCTF still had the right to strike, the Liberals believed their only option was to take that right away.

If you put your thumb to your index finger and apply the right amount of pressure, you can see what an Industrial Inquiry Commission will accomplish. When Mike De Jong says "there's a problem in collective bargaining", what he really means is that the Liberals think collective bargaining is the problem. As the public has witnessed with hospital services, BC Ferries, universities, and elsewhere in the public sector, the Liberals don't like bargaining. They like their hand-picked employers to hardball the unions to the brink, have their allies in the Canwest media cabal distort the issues so the public turns on those unions, and then Gordon Campbell rides in like some glib, inebriated White Knight, ordering people back to work and saving the day.

The real problem with collective bargaining for the Liberals is they haven't tried it. That's why real wages in what's supposedly the fastest-growing economy in Canada (source: BC Liberal campaign materials) only grew 2.4% per capita last year, compared to Saskatchewan's 4.4 (source: Statistics Canada). In passing Bill 12, the Liberals have made a partial realization that something is wrong with public sector bargaining. A full realization can only be made if they look in the mirror, because that's where the problem lies.


Drop the puck without me

The National Hockey League returns tomorrow to, judging by the local and national media reaction, save us all, or at least the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. The prospect of an even further prolonged absence of its Hockey Night in Canada cash cow has forced the "public" broadcaster to end its seven-week lockout of the Canadian Media Guild.

This page refuses to buy into the "Hockey's Back" (tm) hype because I didn't see hockey go anywhere over the past 12 months. What I saw was a gritty Czech Republic side beat Team Canada for the World Championship. I saw the London Knights run over all comers for the Memorial Cup. I saw the Pacific Coliseum filled to the rafters for the WHL Vancouver Giants. With all that hockey going on, I didn't have time to notice the cavemen who run the NHL trying to bust the players union and throw cold water on any rule changes to make the game more entertaining, at least until the prospect of the league's implosion forced them to relent on both counts.

Sorry, but I won't be tuned in tomorrow to watch Todd (convicted of assault) Bertuzzi and the Vancouver Canucks face off vs. Coach Wayne (I stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Peter Pocklington and George W. Bush) Gretzky and the Phoenix Coyotes. Dave Zirin's recent book What's My Name, Fool? Sports and Resistance in the United States points out several athletes in baseball, football, basketball, track, tennis, and several other high-level sports who stood up for the labour, anti-war, anti-racism, and women's movements. A couple of minutes in Don Cherry's Coaches Corner (the supreme arbiter of what qualifies as sound character in the NHL) readily explains why Zirin had no NHL players to write about.

Besides, with an NHL season drawing out until the first two weeks of summer, it's not like major league hockey is going away anytime soon. Some of us are forgoing the force-fed Canadiana and instead watching the only sport that matters in the month of October.