Teachers use social media to debate strike voteJune 9, 2014
As tensions were building last month between teachers and government, a media relations officer for the B.C. Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) tweeted:
“This will be a strike like no other. More B.C. teachers than ever (are) using social media to tell their stories.”
He was right. Teachers have dominated social media for weeks with information about why they’re fighting for improvements in class size, class composition and salaries. It’s been mostly informative, often provocative and occasionally unpleasant.
But the conversation turned over the weekend, as teachers were preparing for a strike vote today and Tuesday that could lead to a full-blown walkout by June 16. Instead of focusing their efforts on public persuasion, teachers began debating with one another.
The issue: Is June really such a good time for a strike?
Of course, these kinds of discussions happen among union members whenever a strike vote is called, but it’s the first time that debate within the BCTF has been so public.
Here are examples of the Twitter discussion (with my additions in brackets):
“Ace up their sleeve. They (government) let us fully strike. They come out later with movement on CS and C (class size and composition) and spin it that they listened to parents. Meanwhile, (BCTF) members are out $1,000s, no $$ in BCTF coffers and union divided. Masterfully played by gov.”
“No doubt these are dark & difficult days. Darker days loom if we do not stand now for quality public education.”
“This is a game for public support. Full strikes do NOT garner public support and (they) give government edge to legislate (an end to the dispute).”
“Telling colleagues to vote yes or they are ‘gov’t supporter’? Way too overboard.”
“A no vote tells the gov that it can push a wedge into the union and that teachers are okay with concessions.”
Today, teachers are tweeting pictures of their ballots along with explanations of why they are voting “yes” to a full-scale strike. Only a few have dared to state on Twitter that they intend to vote no and they’ve been dressed down as a result. One said she was asked to abstain from voting as a “compromise” and another said he was accused of being a government supporter.
(Even if teachers give their union the right to strike, as expected, that doesn’t mean it will happen. Bargaining is still underway and rotating strikes are set for Tuesday-Friday.)
The social media debate about striking has also included some interesting blog posts by teachers.
One, titled Why I will vote yes for escalating job action and written anonymously, includes this:
“The timing is tough. Teachers are weary by June. We are uncomfortable leaving the students with a bad feeling before summer break, and we’re tired of fighting – of losing pay to strike days of having 10% cut from our salaries. Many teachers would rather not further anger parents.
“On the other hand, a strong ‘yes’ vote will show a cynical government that it can never defeat us. It will show the government that no matter what it does to us, we will stand up in solidarity.
“. . . For me, there is no more fear. I don’t care what the government does to me anymore. I have fought too long, and endured too much heartache to give up now. We are so close! If we hold rank we can win. We have the Charter and the Court of Law on our side.”
Another blog post, by a veteran North Vancouver teacher, takes a different position.
“I feel Jim Iker’s announcement yesterday to hold a strike escalation vote was premature. I don’t hear widespread support among teachers for this plan, and now we’re yet again in the position of ‘vote yes or you’re shooting your union in the foot’. I support what we’re bargaining for, but that doesn’t mean I agree with the tactics we’re using.”
Like most people, he expects the union will get a mandate from the membership for a full strike but he appeals to union leaders not to use it. He explains his reasons in a Letter to B.C. Parents, which you can read here.
The results of the strike vote are expected to be announced Tuesday evening. The government, meanwhile, has asked the B.C. Labour Relations Board to designate as essential all work by teachers that is necessary for students to complete Grade 10-12 provincial exams. It has also posted a bulletin to parents explaining what will happen if the BCTF initiates a full-scale strike.
The dispute with teachers was further complicated Sunday by an announcement that the government – through the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association – has reached a five-year deal with the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), representing 27,000 school support staff.
That deal, settled after just five days of bargaining, includes a wage increase consistent with other public-sector agreements and money to cover wages lost by CUPE members who refuse to cross BCTF picket lines.
News reports indicate the government saved $21.3 million in unpaid salaries during the first week of rotating strikes.
I am a guest blogger for BCCPAC and do not speak for the organization.